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Fury as OFT ditches high fuel prices inquiry

THE OFFICE of Fair Trading (OFT) has come under fire after ending its latest investigation into Shetland’s fuel market by concluding there was insufficient evidence of market manipulation.

The competition watchdog said it had “carefully examined” information relating to why islanders face some of the highest fuel prices in Europe, but it had been “inconclusive”.

Despite the introduction of a five pence a litre derogation for the three Scottish islands, pump prices remain markedly higher than on the mainland.

In Edinburgh the price of a litre of unleaded petrol ranges between 125p and 130p, whereas in Lerwick it ranges from 137p to 140p.

Politicians in the islands have spent years calling into question a market which allows fuel distributor Certas Energy, formerly known as GB Oils, a monopoly over supply.

Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael and Shetland MSP Tavish Scott both expressed their disappointment at the OFT’s decision.

While the watchdog said it would be happy to reopen the investigation if new evidence comes to light, the parliamentarians said that would come as “little comfort to islanders who, for the time being, will continue to endure inflated fuel costs”.

Scott pointed out that an investigation into the Western Isles’ fuel market was continuing, and accused the OFT of putting the interests of Certas ahead of those of Shetlanders faced with expensive petrol and diesel prices.

“The OFT are proposing to consult on Certas’ proposals,” he fumed. “A so-called independent competition authority is now doing the distribution businesses’ job for them. This consultation is a smokescreen.”

Scott said that, despite the UK government’s introduction of a five pence cut in petrol tax for Scottish islands, Shetlanders “still pay a huge premium for buying petrol”.

“It is deeply disappointing that once again the OFT support the distribution company and not islanders.”

Carmichael said he had spoken directly OFT representatives in Edinburgh and said he too was disappointed at its failure to find the necessary evidence.

“I have asked them to put in writing the nature and extent of the evidence that they require and also what evidence they have found in the Western Isles that justifies further action there,” he said.

“Once we have that detail it may be possible to gather further local evidence which would justify OFT action. In the meantime, however, we shall have to keep a close eye on the Western Isles to see what happens with the investigation there.”