The restoration of national competitiveness is one of the primary focuses of Government policy. Price competitiveness is an integral element of restoring national competitiveness. The Central Statistics Office's recent publication of the EU Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices, which is accepted as the most appropriate measure for community wide price comparisons, shows that in the year to November 2011, prices in Ireland increased by 1.7% as compared with an increase in prices of 3.0% (provisional) in the Euro area and 3.4% (provisional) throughout the EU as a whole. It will be seen, therefore, that prices in most member states of the EU are increasing at a much faster rate than prices in Ireland. This price competitive advantage is helping in the effort to restore national competitiveness.
Notwithstanding the welcome improvement in our price comparative position, undoubtedly a number of sectors have experienced above average price increases. Whilst some of the increases have arisen as a result of fiscal measures dictated by the country's difficult budgetary position, others, particularly in the energy sector, have been dictated by global factors such as increases in the price of carbon fuels, capacity difficulties for refining such fuels etc.
It should be borne in mind that a number of the sectors referred to in the Deputy's question are subject to regulatory oversight, including in relation to matters such as price. It is the case that consumer welfare is an integral element of the mandates of the regulatory bodies concerned, including in relation to the regulatory decisions that they make.
Any consideration of prices should also take into account the role that consumers can play in bringing about a more competitive marketplace. Consumers by informing themselves of the different offerings in the marketplace can help to ensure that they receive the best value for money, which in turn can be the catalyst for greater competition. In this regard, price comparison survey work carried out by the National Consumer Agency has helped to enable consumers to become much more informed and price aware in relation to their day to day shopping thus helping them to achieve the best value for money.
In so far as the liquid fuel sector referred to in the Deputy's question is concerned, a survey of prices of home heating oil published by the National Consumer Agency in September 20011 showed considerable price variations amongst suppliers in a significant number of the areas surveyed. This survey and other like surveys clearly show that it is in consumers' own interest as well as the wider competitiveness interest to seek out the best value for money in their day to day spending decisions.