Fuel Poverty (Rural Dimension)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 10th May 2018.

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Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

6. To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on there being a distinct rural dimension to fuel poverty, and whether it plans to take forward all of the recommendations of the Scottish rural fuel poverty task force. (S5O-02082)

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

This Government has always prioritised tackling fuel poverty and is committed to ensuring that everyone in Scotland lives in a warm home that is affordable to heat, no matter where they live. We recognise that—[

Interruption

.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Excuse me, minister. You were turned off at source, but you are back on again. [

Laughter

.] I do not know why that happened; I am not responsible.

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

Thank you, Presiding Officer. That is the first time that I have been turned off at source.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Could you repeat your answer?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

We recognise that fuel poverty in our remote rural and island communities requires particular attention, and that is why we established the Scottish rural fuel poverty task force, which reported its findings in October 2016. We published our response to that in March 2017.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I hope that you caught all of that, Mr McArthur.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

This exchange has taken an uncomfortable turn.

Will the minister reflect on the unwillingness so far of the Scottish Government to accept the advice of the rural fuel poverty task force, its own fuel poverty definition group, all the local authorities and housing associations in the Highlands and Islands, Citizens Advice Scotland, Shelter and a range of other organisations that we need a minimum income standard for remote and rural areas if we are to tackle fuel poverty at source in the communities that are most heavily affected by fuel poverty, such as those in Orkney?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

Mr McArthur takes a great interest in all this. As he knows, our delivery plans are focused on remote, rural and island areas. The per-head spend on home energy efficiency programme area-based schemes in remote, rural and island areas is £9,000, compared to £7,500 elsewhere.

Although the majority of the recommendations that were made by the task force were for the Scottish Government, a significant number were for other bodies to look at, including the United Kingdom Government, Ofgem and energy suppliers. We will continue to listen to remote, rural and island communities, and the bill and strategy that we will publish before the end of the term will be designed to focus on those who are most in need, to help them heat their homes, no matter where they live in Scotland.

Photo of Peter Chapman Peter Chapman Conservative

Rural properties are rarely connected to the gas network and often rely on kerosene central heating. What plans does the Scottish Government have to ensure that rural areas can play their part in decarbonisation? Does it plan to introduce schemes to help rural residents upgrade and modernise their heating systems and boilers?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

We will continue to review all those issues. I am aware that households that are off mains gas have difficulties of their own. It would be helpful, of course, if the UK Government lived up to what it said it was going to do about fuel prices and put a cap on them. Perhaps Mr Chapman can talk to his colleagues at Westminster to see whether they will do that, because it would be a great relief to those who live in remote, rural and island communities.