So yet another investigation into the road fuel market is upon us and those veterans of the fuel retailing industry will probably shrug with frustration – they’ve seen it all before.
There have been several reports in the past few decades – I’ve gone into the dusty archives and found a couple of reports (proper paper ones!). One is from 1990, entitled ‘The Supply of Petrol’, when the Monopolies and Mergers Commission concluded that “the present state of the industry is competitive and that none of the facts found operates against the public interest”. Another is from 1998, entitled ‘Competition in the Supply of Petrol in UK’ when the Office of Fair Trading concluded that “the market is operating competitively and does not warrant any intervention now”.
The most recent report was in 2013, conducted again by the Office of Fair Trading (before it became the Competition and Markets Authority in 2014), which concluded: “Rises in pump prices for petrol and diesel over the last 10 years have been caused largely by higher crude oil prices and increases in tax and duty and not a lack of competition”. Interestingly, the RAC’s response at that time was: “Some will find it hard to believe, but the report does make clear that the fuel market is helping keep prices lower…” Yet to this day, the motoring organisation still wants to blame fuel retailers. Our news headlines on the Forecourt Trader website have reflected this, as within days of the CMA’s recent ‘short and focused review’, it was again describing the “fractional falls” in pump prices, when wholesale prices had “plummeted” as an “irremovable stain on major retailers’ reputations”.
For many decades fuel retailers have been targeted as the villains when it comes to pump prices “going up like a rocket, and coming down like a feather” to quote many commentators on the subject. Yet plainly, there are good reasons for how prices at the pump operate – even Mr FairFuelUK himself, Howard Cox, seems to ‘get it’, stressing during media interviews that retailers are not to blame, but suggesting that “something is not right” at a higher level. Hopefully, having spotted a “cause for concern”, the CMA’s latest ‘in-depth investigation’ will finally come up with a report to end all reports. But don’t hold your breath!