OFT on fuel trade: Nothing to see here, folks

Man fills car up
The OFT reckons there's not much wrong with how this is sold. Many disagree
"Every motorist and business in Britain instinctively knows that 'something's not right" Quentin Wilson
  • | by Kristian Dando

Have you noticed what a spirit-sapping, wallet-ravaging experience going to the petrol station is lately?

Well, for those of you who haven’t filled a car up with petrol since – oooh, 2005 – it has become quite a pricey ordeal indeed.

So, it might come as something of a shock that – and you’ll like this – the Office of Fair Trading has said that ‘little action’ is needed in the petrol marketplace, and that is working just fine, thankyouverymuch.

“Our analysis suggests that competition is working well, and rises in pump prices over the last decade or so have largely been down to increases in tax and the cost of crude oil," said OFT chief executive Clive Maxwell.

However, the OFT did thankfully  have something to say on the matter of laughably expensive petrol prices at Britain’s motorway Service Station’s – those bleak establishments which have been merrily holding weary motorists in need of sustenance to ransom since the opening of Watford Gap in 1959.

The OFT  has asked the Department for Transport to introduce new signs on motorways to display prices of petrol, so motorists are warned of having to stump up for over-the-odds fuel - usually the Moto, Traveller's Rest or Roadchef signs are a giveaway.  (MOTORWAY ‘PRO TIP’ – There’s usually a supermarket not too far off the motorway. Have a look around for convenient stop-offs on the internet before you go. Or perhaps, make sure you’ve got a full tank before you set off on a long journey. That always helps.)

However, perhaps the most galling claim in the OFT’s investigation is that the UK actually has Europe’s cheapest fuel – well, before a whole lot of tax (about 60%) gets bolted on to the price.

Understandably, there have been scores of campaigners queuing up to launch searing ripostes to the OFT’s judgement. Quentin Wilson - former Top Gear presenter, spokesman for pressure group FairFuelUK and uncanny vampire lookalike - thundered laconically: "Every motorist and business in Britain instinctively knows that 'something's not right'”.

He continued: "The OFT appears to have failed to address the key issues of : why diesel is more expensive than unleaded in the UK when this is not the case in Europe, why falls in the oil price take so long to be reflected at the pump, and why there are such variations in price, often from the same branded forecourts, within the same area."

Meanwhile,  the Petrol Retailers' Association, which represents independent forecourts and was the organisation who called in the OFT in the first place, judged the findings to be “a grave disappointment.”

"This is the sort of thing that the OFT and the establishment have done many times before," said spokesman Brian Madderson. "They have failed to take on the big players in the market - the oil companies, the supermarkets - and have left the smaller independent businesses to their fate."

Anyway, what do YOU think? 'Tweet’ us or get involved on the Covered Facebook page and we’ll have a good old chinwag about it.