Duty to consider the needs of customers in rural areas

Part of Domestic Gas and Electricity (Tariff Cap) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 15 March 2018.

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Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Infrastructure and Energy) 12:00, 15 March 2018

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

We know that part of the problem with existing tariffs is that certain groups of people are more likely to be adversely affected. New clause 2 would make the duty to consider the needs of customers in rural areas absolutely explicit. To recap what I think we are all aware of, people who reside in rural areas are more likely to have lower incomes; they are more likely to be off the gas grid, which leads to overall higher energy costs; and, particularly in Scotland, they are more likely to have properties that are much more difficult to make energy-efficient, thereby increasing their ongoing energy costs.

Digital connectivity is an issue predominantly in rural issues, which means that is difficult to undertake regular switching. Rural areas also still suffer from notspots for mobile coverage, which is an impediment to getting a smart meter. If we really believe that smart meters will help revolutionise the market and help people get lower tariffs, we need to eliminate the notspots. The Scottish Government have just announced a £25 million fund to provide more coverage in rural areas, but that is perhaps not something they should need to step up to the plate on. Challenger companies are also less likely to tackle the rural issue, so the incumbents—the big six—often have almost a monopoly in some rural areas. That is another barrier to competition.

To cap it all in terms of the disadvantages for rural customers, people in the Scottish highlands and islands have to pay 4p a unit more for electricity usage. Rubbing salt into their wounds, anything generated in more rural areas has higher transmission charges placed on the generation companies, and customers in those areas pay a higher distribution levy. That is a real injustice for those in rural areas. And, of course, the Government have removed contract for difference auction capabilities for onshore wind in rural areas, which compounds the whole feeling of injustice.

The new clause would therefore require the Secretary of State and the regulator to have regard to customers in rural areas in exercising their powers when setting, reviewing and terminating the cap. The clause itself is self-explanatory. Again, I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say.