Oil Prices

Oral Answers to Questions – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 17th February 2014.

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Photo of Mickey Brady Mickey Brady Sinn Féin 2:45 pm, 17th February 2014

3. asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment for her assessment of the levels of transparency in home-heating oil prices. (AQO 5558/11-15)

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

The price of heating oil is largely determined by international markets.  Daily movements in the commodity price for kerosene are fully transparent.  The Consumer Council produces a range of current and archived retail oil prices across Northern Ireland on its oil watch web page.  Additionally, the Northern Ireland Oil Federation, in partnership with the Consumer Council, launched a customer charter that provides service and price guarantees to consumers confirming the price of oil in advance of delivery.

Photo of Mickey Brady Mickey Brady Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for her answer.  As she may be aware, my colleagues in the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment raised those concerns in December.  Can she indicate what response she has had from the Oil Federation in that regard?  Go raibh maith agat.

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I am not entirely sure what concerns have been raised.  Certainly, I have not received any issues to take forward.  The reality is that the price is transparent.  We have looked at that in the past.  Indeed, the Office of Fair Trading looked at the issue in 2011.  All that we can do is continue to look at the price of oil and work with the Consumer Council, which, as I have indicated, keeps a very close eye on the issue.  Indeed, I welcome the fact that it is now working more proactively and positively with the oil industry here in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Paula Bradley Paula Bradley DUP

Can the Minister comment further on the need for regulation of the home heating oil market?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP 3:00 pm, 17th February 2014

As I indicated, the 2011 Office of Fair Trading study considered the Northern Ireland oil distribution sector to be transparent and, more importantly, competitive on price, with cheaper retail prices than Great Britain and, indeed, the Republic of Ireland.  That point is sometimes missed when the story comes to the fore.

It remains very unclear whether regulation would achieve significant benefit.  However, I know this much:  it would place a large regulatory burden and cost on what is assessed as being a competitive oil supply and distribution sector.  Let us not forget that the cost will be passed on to the consumer.  Therefore, regulation is not a cost-free option.  It brings costs, and those costs have to be passed on to the consumer.  We should remember that when we talk about regulation.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as a freagraí go dtí seo.  Will the Minister advise the House how often she meets, or her departmental officials meet, the likes of oil retailers to discuss prices and the impact of those prices on the economy, fuel poverty and related consumer matters?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

As the Member is only too well aware, the issue of fuel poverty is taken forward by my colleague the Minister for Social Development, and I am sure that he keeps in contact with the retailers.  Steps have been taken to help those in fuel poverty.  I particularly commend the efforts in and around bulk buying.  I am aware of very many excellent examples of credit unions, local councils and communities working together in oil-buying schemes or oil stamp-saving schemes to ease the burden of purchasing oil.  We know that the cost of energy, regardless of whether it is oil, gas or electricity, is a burden on those in fuel poverty.  Therefore, I welcome the fact that such schemes are in place to help individuals.