Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Asda accused of petrol profiteering

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He said that the amount of verbal abuse directed towards his staff had risen since the Prime Minister pledged to crack down on “rip-off” prices at the pumps.

The wholesale price supermarkets pay is typically based on a lag of up to three weeks, allowing them to bolster profit margins at a time when oil prices are rising sharply. This compares with independent operators, most of which pay for fuel based on the previous week’s average price. Around a quarter are forced to pay the spot price on the day the fuel is delivered.

In a rising market, this means independent operators must increase their prices more quickly – giving supermarkets the chance to make bigger profits if they follow suit, Mr Briggs said.

The criticism of supermarkets came as the Competition and Markets Authority confirmed it would conduct a “short and focused review” of the fuel market in response to Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, asking the body to investigate if duty cuts were being passed on to customers.

Prices at the pumps have hit fresh highs, prompting calls for the Government to reduce duty further to help households that are already grappling with the cost of living crisis.

Simon Williams, RAC fuel spokesman, said: “The speed and scale of the increase is staggering with unleaded going up 7p in a week and diesel by nearly 6p.

“This must surely put more pressure on the Government to take action to ensure drivers don’t endure a summer of discontent at the pumps.”

The big four supermarkets – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Asda – enjoy a dominant position in the UK fuel market. They sell more than 43pc of the fuel by volume but have less than one in five of the total number of sites.

Mr Briggs, whose company Ascona operates across 59 locations, making it the UK’s seventh largest forecourt operator, asked why supermarkets were not passing on savings to their customers.

“If they’re benefiting from a three-week lag, and they’re matching independent retailers on price – you do the maths,” he said.

The discrepancy between supermarkets and independent retailers was to the “detriment of the industry”.

He added: “It would be a lot easier and a lot safer for everyone if these supply agreements were based on a previous week’s average.”

A spokesman for Asda said: “Asda is the price leader in the supermarket fuel sector and despite significant increases in wholesale fuel costs our average petrol price today is 8p per litre cheaper than independent operators. We were also the first retailer to pass on the cut in fuel duty and will continue to do all we can to offer customers the lowest prices at the pumps.”  

Forecourt operators have been criticised for being quick to increase the price-per-litre when wholesale prices rise, but slow to reduce them when they fall.

Mr Briggs said: “What we do on some of our sites is that when we hold back [price increases] we actually take a hit on our margin, to remain competitive.

“There are times when we will take a hit on our margins in a fast rising market, because we’re basically being hit by that three-week advantage. So of course, we lose margin.

“And then when the market falls, then we act slower. And we offset that margin between the two. So we’ve lost in a rising market, [and] we’ve slightly gained by the parachute.”

He also defended higher prices at the pumps despite global oil prices being at similar levels in the past. Because fuel is purchased in US dollars, he said the weak pound meant that the actual cost was at record highs when converted into sterling.

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