His attack brought an angry response from the fleet industry, which claimed the committee was ill-informed about the way fleets worked. The announcement that Whitehall fleets were focusing on discounts in a £78 million joint fleet deal reinforced their argument. This drew a hasty rethink from O'Neill who, as chairman of the Trade and Industry Select Committee, carried out an investigation into new car prices.
He said: 'I am not against the deal as long as it is not to the disadvantage of consumers. I think people have always felt fleets are setting discounts to the detriment of the retailer and also the resale market. Everyone agrees Government must get the best possible deal for the taxpayer. We have to ensure that in getting a good deal it is not to the disadvantage of them by reducing used car prices.'
The three-year Whitehall deal includes the Inland Revenue and Department of Social Security fleets and will include the purchase of at least 6,500 vehicles over the next three years. With just a week left until the end of the consultation period for the Competition Commission's New Cars Inquiry report, which could demand dealerships receive the same discounts as fleets and lead to recommended prices being wiped out, O'Neill said he was studying developments.