A FUEL company boss was jostled and jeered yesterday as protesters tried to stop him entering council offices where he was due to explain the sky-high fuel prices in the Western Isles.
Some of the demonstrators even tried to get Sam Chambers, managing director of GB Oils – parent company of distributor Scottish Fuels – to sign a petition calling for fairer fuel prices in the Hebrides.
Eventually, he was allowed into the Stornoway headquarters of the Western Isles Council, where he tried to explain to local politicians his company’s pricing policy.
This has resulted in road fuel selling for 15-20p a litre more than in mainland towns and cities, leading to claims of profiteering by the suppliers.
An independent investigation is now to be carried out into fuel costs in the islands.
Scottish Fuels, which has a virtual monopoly on fuel supplies in the Outer Hebrides, agreed voluntarily to open its books to an impartial body in the face of public outrage among islanders, who buy the most expensive petrol in the UK.
Western Isles MP Angus Macneil, who organised the meeting, said the firm had agreed to the independent examination of its practices and complex supply chain.
He suggested that the Office of Fair Trading or a Scottish Parliament panel could carry out the investigation.
Bus fares in the isles have gone up 32% in three years and taxi charges have also risen recently because of the increased cost of fuel.
Hecklers accused Mr Chambers of profiteering and exploiting his firm’s virtual monopoly in the islands.
They demanded fair fuel prices and wanted to know why the same coastal tanker took on oil from the same refinery and delivered it Inverness and the islands on the same voyage, yet there was such a huge price rise by the time it got to the islands.
Island retailers say they apply only 5-6p to the wholesale cost per litre, turning the attention on to GB Oils.
Campaigner Erica Macdonald, 39, from Stornoway, who organised the protest, said island prices had been increased further as soon as the government raised the prospect of a special 5p cut in fuel duty for the islands.
She said she was so angry about the cost of filling up her car that she decided to do something about it. She added: “We have no competition here and if we did it would make a difference.
“It would be nice to have price parity with Inverness, where fuel is 15-20p cheaper, but even if we were just 2p above, it would make a huge difference to people here.”
Miss Macdonald, a council administrative worker, also arranged a petition against high fuel prices signed by more than 3,000 people in just a week. This was handed in to the Treasury in June.
Mr Chambers declined to comment after the meeting but it emerged that oil refinery conglomerate Conoco plays a major role in the supply chain.
It sells the fuel to Scottish Fuel only when it is drawn down at the island oil depots and not when it leaves the refinery at Immingham in Lincolnshire.
The variable wholesale price is determined on the day of the sale.
Mr Macneil said: “Conoco is a new dimension in this. This enables companies to hide behind one another and makes the situation less than transparent. It is an opaque situation and we have to get to the bottom of it.”
MSP Alasdair Allan said: “Scottish Fuels at one point offered the explanation that island retailers were to blame for this, something which the meeting certainly did not accept.”
He said there were still many unanswered questions in a “community which is growing ever more anxious about the cost of fuel”.
“The Office of Fair Trading also recently responded to a letter from me in which they indicated that they are currently examining fuel prices in the islands to establish whether things have changed since they last examined complaints about a local monopoly in 2000-01,” he said.