fuel petrol station unleaded diesel GettyImages-1447983038

Source: Getty Images

The Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) has announced plans for a fuel finder scheme underpinned by new compulsory open data requirements on retailers

Supermarkets have been called to make or break talks over a new system of fuel transparency, after being accused of snubbing plans by competition bosses to protect drivers from being “ripped off”.

Earlier this month the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) announced plans for a fuel finder scheme underpinned by new compulsory open data requirements on retailers, following a probe into competition in the fuel sector .

Along with the government, the CMA has been trying to fast-track a voluntary system in time to launch in August, to help shoppers struggling with the cost of living crisis.

Yesterday its CEO Sarah Cardell told MPs on the business and trade committee that no supermarket had yet agreed to the government’s plans to launch a voluntary system of fuel price reporting in August, ahead of plans for a mandatory system of transparency.

Talks involving supermarkets, the CMA and secretary of state for energy Grant Shapps broke down amid acrimony on Monday.

Cardell told the committee supermarkets had been asked to make their prices available to the public in advance of regulation, but said “we don’t yet have firm commitment from any of them on that”, despite all supermarkets having supported the proposals for a new fuel finder system in principle.  

She said supermarkets would be asked again to commit to the scheme in further talks next week, adding: “I would stress that this does require prompt and full co-operation if it is to launch in August.”

The CMA’s probe into fuel prices found drivers in the UK paid an extra £900m in fuel last year as they were charged 6p more per litre, recommending the new system in order to provide customers with live, transparent fuel price data.

In a tweet after Monday’s meeting, Shapps slammed supermarkets for using petrol prices as a cash cow.

“I have just got off a call with supermarket and petrol station bosses to demand that they immediately stop overcharging you at the petrol pump,” he said.

“When their costs were falling they kept prices high and refused to pass on the savings to you.

“Well, there’s no excuse and the government is saying ‘enough is enough’.”

Yesterday’s hearing also featured a bruising confrontation between MPs on the committee and Asda co-owner Mohsin Issa, who was called to give evidence following the CMA’s finding that the retailer had brought in “pence per litre” fuel margin targets three times their 2019 level.

Issa maintained the company’s position that there had been no change to its fuel strategy since the business was bought from Walmart two years ago.

“We remain the price leader,” he told the hearing, saying Asda had invested additional margins from its fuel offering into food and other essentials.

However, committee chair Darren Jones accused Issa of “wasting” its time by not answering its questions.

Asda has already been fined £60,000 for failing to co-operate properly with the CMA’s probe, and the authority says it would have fined the retailer more if it had the power to do so.

Asda chief people officer Hayley Tatum was also grilled over claims the retailer was using “fire and rehire” tactics in a case involving 7,000 workers.

She was called to give evidence after Asda chief commercial officer Kris Comerford last month told the committee fire and rehire tactics were “not something Asda employs”, despite the company being at the centre of a row over its plans to axe a pay premium for staff based in the south east.

Tatum had described the practice as “dismiss and re-engage” and insisted it was only a last resort, with the outcome of the consultation still not clear.

“We don’t know whether we would end up in a fire and rehire position,” she said.

But Jones fumed: “This has been quite an extraordinary session… you’ve not answered any of our questions.”

“I’m just very sorry that we’ve spent an hour going round in circles and you’ve not been complying with the questions from this committee.

“It’s not in order and I think actually you’ve suffered to the detriment for the brand of Asda to your customers and your suppliers.”