Watchdog probes rural challenges

The government's competition watchdog has issued a call for evidence of the challenges faced by people in remote communities.

The Office of Fair Trading said it wanted to understand more about the issues faced by consumers and businesses in outlying areas.

The OFT said it recognised that the prices of many goods and services were frequently higher in remote communities.

There can be fewer suppliers available, and access to key services such as shops, dentists, chemists, banks and public transport can be limited," it said.

"Fuel prices are a common cause for concern for those who need to travel long distances to get to school, to work or to the shops.

"While shopping online may expand opportunities for broader choice and quality, deliveries to more isolated areas can sometimes be problematic or costly."

The OFT said it would be seeking to explore these and other issues with communities and businesses in remote areas.

In doing so, it aimed to improve its own understanding of how consumer or competition law can help tackle them.

OFT director Kyla Brand said geography and population density could have a major impact on the cost and accessibility of goods and services to consumers, and on how businesses operated.

"We want to get a clearer picture of these issues and understand and explain some of the reasons behind them.

"We also want to explore what the OFT, or other bodies could do to reduce the downsides, and maximise the benefits of remoteness."

As part of the project, the OFT will be running workshops with residents in seven locations across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

These include Devon, Northumberland, Shetland, Highland, Gwynedd, Bridgend and County Tyrone.

Locations were chosen to reflect the diverse nature of remote communities and to include coastal, inland, island and mainland areas.

The OFT will also look at how other countries address specific market issues arising in isolated communities.

Consumers and businesses wishing to contribute to the study are requested to send their views before 20 April.

Details of how to submit evidence are available here.

The OFT said it expected to publish the outcome of its call for evidence by July.


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