By Angela Rees
Motoring groups have expressed their disappointment at the Office of Fair Trading's report concluding that competition in the fuel market is "working well".
The watchdog said high prices are down to taxes and the cost of crude oil, and there is "very limited evidence" to suggest that pump prices rise quickly when the wholesale price goes up but fall much slower when it drops.
Angry campaigners, led by motoring journalist Quentin Willson, had called for the OFT to announce a full investigation into the sector, and said drivers would feel let down by the report.
Willson, a spokesman for FairFuelUK, said: "UK consumers will be bitterly disappointed. The nation will feel let down. Quite frankly, I'm shocked. The OFT investigated in 1998 and now have done so again. Every motorist and business in Britain instinctively knows that something's not right. The Americans and the Germans are holding inquiries - why aren't we?
He pointed to Europe, where diesel is no more expensive than petrol, which is not the case in the UK, asking why the OFT did not address this and other key issues, including why falls in the oil price take so long to be reflected at the pump and why such variations in price are often seen at forecourts within the same area.
The OFT said the UK had some of the cheapest pre-tax road fuel prices in Europe. In the 10 years to 2012, pump prices rose from 76 pence per litre (ppl) to 136ppl for petrol, and from 78ppl to 142ppl for diesel, caused largely by an increase of nearly 24ppl in tax and duty and 33ppl in the cost of crude oil.
Although the investigation was largely positive about the fuel industry, it did identify a lack of pricing information on motorways as a concern, and the OFT said action may be taken in some local markets if there was "persuasive evidence of anti-competitive behaviour".