Oil giants 'put squeeze on small garages'

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The Independent Online

Oil companies are being investigated amid accusations that they have imposed artificially high fuel prices on independent petrol stations to try to squeeze them out of the competitive fuel market.

Oil companies are being investigated amid accusations that they have imposed artificially high fuel prices on independent petrol stations to try to squeeze them out of the competitive fuel market.

More than 180 small petrol retailers have gone out of business since last month's fuel crisis and the trade believes a further 100 stations may close by Christmas.

The Office of Fair Trading is expected shortly to announce its findings into the allegations that the big suppliers are selling petrol to small independents at prices higher than offered to their own outlets. The companies face fines of up to 10 per cent of their turnover - which could potentially run into billions of pounds - if they are found to be in breach of the Competition Act, introduced earlier this year.

The OFT will make its ruling based on detailed information about the oil companies' pricing policies.

According to the Retail Motor Industry Federation, which speaks on behalf of the UK's 6,839 independent petrol stations, the oil giants have steadily increased the price at which they sell petrol to independent garages. Since August, the price per litre has risen by 2.76p to 16.57p.

"Independents have raised prices but it isn't a case of profiteering. It was simply the case that those retailers had to cover the costs they incurred as a result of the fuel crisis," said a spokesman for the Retail Motor Industry Federation.

Meanwhile, fuel tax protesters are planning a convoy from Jarrow to London in a bid to turn up the pressure on the Chancellor to cut the tax on fuel. The organisers hope that up to 5,000 trucks, tractors, taxis and coaches will join the procession, which they believe will stand comparison with the 1936 Jarrow crusade, when 200 unemployed men marched from the North-East to London.

About 150 vehicles are expected to start from the Birtley truck stop off the A1 on 10 November. A small contingent will make a detour past the Shell oil refinery at Jarrow, blockaded during last month's protest, before joining the rest of the convoy to drive through the centre of Newcastle. The convoy is due to arrive in the capital on 14 November, where campaigners hope a million people will join a protest march.

Proposals for the cavalcade had been shelved at a meeting in Gateshead earlier this month but the self-proclaimed "People's Fuel Lobby", made up of hauliers, farmers, taxi drivers and coach operators, has now revived the idea. Andy Spence, a Consett farmer and one of the convoy organisers, said the convoy would travel at about 25mph. Tractors, banned from motorways, would go south loaded on wagons.

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