Fuel Duty Discount Round-Table Meeting

Harry and I were invited to to attend the round-table discussion on the subject of fuel costs in remote areas at a meeting organised by the Scotland Office, Westminster.Also present were Island MPs, fuel retailers from rural areas, fuel distributors and representatives from the Local Authorities.

The Office of Fair Trading were represented and a lot of discussion was held regarding their report which came out on 30th January. In short they found no blame or wrong doing within the fuel distribution industry and provided answers for a series of questions such as: the big variations in price from one fuel station to another; the rigging of the oil commodity market; why the fall in Oil price takes so long to be reflected at the pumps and yet all increases happen instantly; and, why diesel is more expensive than unleaded in the UK when this is not the case in Europe. They felt confident that there is no unfairness in the competition within the industry regarding oil companies, or supermarkets which have left the smaller independent businesses to their fate. Ten years ago there were over 18,000 Independent Retailers now there are less than 8,000!

Closer to home, the representatives from Mull, Coll, and ourselves repeatedly expressed the unfair vulnerability to fuel prices due to our locations, low throughputs, high overheads and the fact that fuel stations in Rural Areas are economically unviable. The Rural Fuel Discount Scheme which came into effect in March 2012 has helped the price at the pumps but it is not enough to bridge the gap between the cost of fuel on the mainland.

The MPs were asked to support the need to increase the discount amount and also support the idea that the Government should offer appropriate and sufficient support to help fuel stations overcome the location and market disadvantages facing us in order to continue to provide this service. Getting free transportation on the ferry for the tankers was discussed, since this occurs in Orkney and Shetland. In our area it is only the Clansman and LOTI that can carry tankers with passengers because of the open deck. This would not cost the Government a lot of money and would help our islands immensely. Mull have fuel storage tanks, which are serviced by tankers by sea. Comparing costs of our local islands with Oban last week the prices were:

                       Unleaded     Derv

Tiree                         153p               158p
Colonsay                 158p               161p
Coll                            165p               168p
Mainland                 135p               145p

We found the meeting very interesting and it was good to have such an open discussion with people who have no idea what rural, isolated areas actually means. The representative from HMRC who spoke about the Fuel Discount Scheme had no idea where Coll and Tiree were. Alison Fraser, representing the Coll Community Fuel Company, took great pleasure in informing him of Scottish geography and where the West Coast Islands are. In the Oban Times this week it was reported that the MPs are taking action regarding our discussions, with suggestions that they are proposing to increase the fuel discount from 5p to 10p or 15p. It is good to keep lobbying our SMPs and MPs regarding fuel costs so that they are aware of the large discrepancy of costs between mainland and the islands.

Catriona ~ Maclennan Motors

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