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Cumbrian MP Tim Farron has said a hard hitting report shows that rural communities are being short-changed by sky-high fuel prices, poor phone coverage and limited choice in the shops.
A six-month Office of Fair Trading investigation into prices in remote areas heard fears of petrol retailers colluding, limited fresh groceries on sale and scaled-back health services in the countryside.
The OFT is also concerned about slow internet speeds and weak or non-existent mobile phone coverage. One person surveyed pointed to unreliable self-serve fuel pumps because inadequate broadband meant the credit card payments failed. The OFT said the problems would not be solved by a crackdown on anti-competitive behaviour alone, and called on authorities to invest in new technology and develop favourable tax policies.
The report identifies a range of actions that can be taken by individual consumers, communities, businesses, government and the OFT. For example:
· Consumers, by knowing their rights, shopping around and being aware that where they shop may have local consequences.
· Communities, by cooperating can increase buying power; local ownership of businesses and community provision of services can be beneficial.
· Businesses, through greater transparency about the costs of doing business in remote communities may give rise to new ideas about how supply may be organised to suppliers' and consumers' mutual benefit.
· Government, through investment in infrastructure, procurement, promoting local enterprise and other direct interventions through subsidies and taxation.
· OFT, through investigation and enforcement of the law, providing advice and guidance and supporting the education of businesses and consumers on their obligations and rights.
The MP has long campaigned for a rural fuel derogation scheme would cut 5p off the price of fuel in Cumbria. The Highlands and the Isles of Scilly have already benefited from the tax cut as the Government piloted the scheme in March. Tim is now calling for the scheme to be rolled out here.
He said: “This major report from the Office of Fair Trading offers a blue print for action. In the coming months I will be using it when I fight for better broadband, mobile phone coverage and increased services for Cumbria.
“It also highlighted for the first time in a major report the pain that high fuel prices are causing. In rural areas like ours, a car is not a luxury, it is a necessity of life. I will keep pushing the government for a fuel derogation scheme and keeping fighting our counties corner.