Rural motorists and haulage firms last night welcomed an investigation into sky-high fuel prices.
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) review will see if motorists are being ripped-off by the supermarkets and major petrol firms not passing cuts in crude oil prices on to motorists at the pumps.
It called for information from the industry, motoring groups and consumer bodies following rising concern about the prices motorists are being charged for petrol and diesel.
President of the AA, Edmund King, welcomed the decision and said it was “overdue”, echoing the sentiments of many haulage companies in the South West.
Tess Wheeler, transport manager of A Wheeler & Sons Transport Ltd of King’s Stanley, near Stroud in Gloucestershire, said steep fuel prices were “crucifying” haulage companies.
“We’re losing customers and we now have to take on all sorts of jobs that we wouldn’t usually do just to keep afloat,” she said. “The problem is that drivers who come from abroad can offer companies a much better bargain than we can because the price of fuel is a lot cheaper overseas. We in Britain just can’t compete.”
Kate Gibbs from the Road Haulage Association, which has been campaigning for the OFT to review fuel prices, said: “We are very, very pleased at this news. “Whenever the price of oil goes up the price at the pumps shoots up instantaneously, but when the price of a barrel comes down it takes a lot longer to filter through.”
Andrew Howard, from the AA, said rising fuel prices are having an adverse effect on motorists, many of whom are making cut-backs in their lifestyles to afford fuel.
“People still have to get to work so generally they can’t afford to cut back on their mileage, therefore they cut down on their living costs,” he said. He added that around 12 per cent of motorists have also delayed servicing their cars just to afford fuel.
The OFT said it will be gathering information over the next six weeks, and plans to publish its findings in January. The UK retail road fuels sector is estimated to be worth around £32 billion, the OFT said. Petrol prices rose by 38 per cent between June 2007 and June 2012, while diesel prices went up by 43 per cent over the same period.
The OFT said it will explore a number of claims about how the road fuels sector is functioning, including whether supermarkets and major oil companies are making it more difficult for independent retailers to compete. The review will also consider whether there is a lack of competition between fuel retailers in some remote communities.
Claire Hart, director in the OFT’s services, infrastructure and public markets group, said: “We are keenly aware of continuing widespread concern about the pump price of petrol and diesel and we have heard a number of different claims about how the market is operating.”
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We welcome the OFT’s decision. We look forward with interest to the findings of the study.”
Quentin Willson, former Top Gear presenter and FairFuelUK campaigner, said: “There is a widespread feeling that when oil goes up, pump prices rocket immediately – but when the oil price falls, pump prices don’t reflect that fall. This causes a sense of complete exasperation and anger.”