Time is tight, so I will move on to the next item of business, which is a stage 3 debate on motion S5M-17566, in the name of Kevin Stewart, on the Fuel Poverty (Targets, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill. Members will recall that, following consideration of amendments last Thursday, the Presiding Officer indicated that he had determined that no provision of the bill relates to a protected subject matter, so the bill does not require a supermajority to be passed at stage 3.
I am very pleased to open this debate on the Fuel Poverty (Targets, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill. From the outset, the bill has been a strong and ambitious piece of legislation, and it has been improved during its legislative stages through the building of consensus across Parliament and through consultation and engagement with stakeholders.
We have established a challenging—but, importantly, achievable—target to reduce fuel poverty to no more than 5 per cent of households by 2040. We have changed the fuel poverty definition to ensure that there is much closer alignment of fuel-poor households with income-poor households. In the illustrative draft fuel poverty strategy, we have shown the scale of the task ahead, as well as some of the ways in which we can bring about change through taking actions across all four drivers of fuel poverty.
I have some thanks to give. I very much thank all the officials who have been involved in the bill, particularly my excellent bill team and my private office. They should be proud of their role in the bill.
I also thank the Local Government and Communities Committee—James Dornan, Alex Rowley, Graham Simpson, Annabelle Ewing, Kenny Gibson, Alexander Stewart and Andy Wightman—for its input as we have moved forward. Its scrutiny and engagement at stages 1 and 2 improved the bill, and I appreciate its constructive input throughout the process. Its stage 1 report included a number of recommendations that I was happy to act on at stage 2, and they have undoubtedly improved the bill.
Other members—Jackie Baillie, Liam McArthur and Alasdair Allan in particular—have paid close attention to the bill, and I thank them for their contributions. Our positive dialogue has led to amendments that we have agreed on and which have improved the bill.
In light of the positive changes that the Parliament has made at stages 2 and 3, it would be useful for me to give an overview of precisely where we are with the bill.
The first thing to note is that the singular fuel poverty “Target” that was originally in the bill’s title has become multiple “Targets”. Secondly, the single metric of the proportion of households in fuel poverty in 2040 has been joined by targets for those in extreme fuel poverty and for the median fuel poverty gap, with interim targets to get us there. On top of that, the 2040 targets have been extended to each and every local authority area in Scotland.
Of course, none of the bill’s targets will have any meaning unless we have a comprehensive and accurate picture of fuel poverty throughout Scotland. To that end, the proposed new definition puts us in an excellent position. As I said, the definition ensures a close alignment between fuel poverty and relative income poverty through the introduction of the income threshold, which is based on the United Kingdom minimum income standard, and the use of after housing costs income. Under the current definition, only around 60 per cent of fuel-poor households are also income poor; under the new definition, that proportion rises to more than 70 per cent. The proportions of households in fuel poverty in the social and private rented sectors also show significant increases, alongside a rise in the number of families recorded as being fuel poor. Those are the kinds of households whose circumstances are often poorly captured by the current definition.
The more balanced picture of fuel poverty that the new definition presents has been further refined by innovations, including Jackie Baillie’s amendment on deducting disability benefits from a household’s adjusted net income.
The definition of extreme fuel poverty was one of the other major additions at stage 2. That came in response to stakeholder input and the committee’s recommendation. To complement that, we added in specific targets to reduce extreme fuel poverty.
Remote, rural and island communities are at the heart of the other major change that we introduced at stage 2: the uplift to the UK minimum income standard for households in those areas. In preparing the details of our proposals, my officials worked closely with Professor Donald Hirsch of the centre for research in social policy at Loughborough University, whose team is responsible for producing the UK-wide minimum income standard. I thank him for his invaluable contribution. The initial reactions that I have heard from rural and island stakeholders to our new uplifts and to our comprehensive island communities impact assessment for the bill have been very positive.
Finally, the decision to create a new statutory Scottish fuel poverty advisory panel was another measure recommended in the committee’s stage 1 report. I was happy to support Alex Rowley’s subsequent amendments, which we improved on further last week.
To conclude, the bill is in excellent shape and will help to ensure that the blight of fuel poverty is tackled with the seriousness and consistency of effort that it demands.
I am pleased that the bill has shown how working together with members from all parties, discussing issues in advance and reaching a consensus can deliver improved legislation.
We can be proud that the Parliament is world leading with the bill. Scotland is one of only a handful of European countries to have defined fuel poverty, let alone set a goal to eradicate it. Achieving the target will place Scotland among the best in the world in tackling fuel poverty.
In that light, I move,
That the Parliament agrees that the Fuel Poverty (Targets, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill be passed.
I got a bit confused at the weekend when I was thinking about the debate. On Twitter, the Scottish National Party announced:
“Here’s what we’re doing in government to make Scotland a fairer place to live.”
That came with a downward arrow that pointed to a list of alleged achievements, the first of which was:
“Passed world-leading legislation to tackle fuel poverty.”
That is what I thought that we were here to do today.
In any case, I am not sure that the term “world-leading” is appropriate for a bill that started with just six pages and was a lukewarm replacement for what we were promised—a warm homes bill. In the stage 1 debate, I said that the bill lacked ambition. I had pretty harsh words for it, which did not go down well with everyone—I recall that my good friend Kenny Gibson got himself in a bit of a tizz, but he is not here to confirm that.
One criticism of the bill was about its target to reduce the fuel poverty rate to 5 per cent within 21 years. Some have argued that that is too far in the future but, now that we have amended the bill to include interim targets, we can be comfortable that we have something that is at least achievable, which is important.
On a visit to Stornoway by the Local Government and Communities Committee, one of the bill’s serious omissions was brought home to us. The omission was that using the minimum income standard, which the minister referred to, to define fuel poverty did not reflect the higher costs that people who live in islands, remote towns and remote rural areas incur. Fuel poverty rates in urban Scotland have improved since 2015, but rates in rural areas have not, so the gap is widening. We faced a legislative vacuum, and the committee said so. Thankfully, the Government listened and amended the bill accordingly at stage 2.
When making law, we must ask ourselves whether it will make a difference to anyone’s life. If the answer is no, we are right to wonder why on earth we should spend any time on it. The bill was in that sort of shape when it was introduced, but we have a different beast now. That is down to people co-operating across party lines and coming up with sensible proposals—as well as some not-so-sensible ones.
Andy Wightman lodged amendments to keep the focus on all four drivers of fuel poverty. The Labour Party introduced provisions on the Scottish fuel poverty advisory panel, which is a welcome addition. It will be an independent advisory panel that will keep the pressure on the Government. It will analyse the periodic reports that the Government produces and will give its views on the progress that has been made and whether the fuel poverty targets will be met. The panel will also be a statutory consultee.
That significant layer of scrutiny was previously lacking. Thankfully, the Government decided that funding for the panel can be much higher—just over four times higher—than the figure that Alex Rowley originally suggested. The Government is to be congratulated on that. The panel will make a significant difference to tackling fuel poverty and will keep the focus and scrutiny on meeting—and, I hope, exceeding—the targets.
The Government listened to calls to target extreme fuel poverty. Stage 2 amendments defined extreme fuel poverty and set final and interim targets for it, as well as for fuel poverty. That will prevent people who live in extreme fuel poverty from being left behind—many of us feared that that would happen under the target that was originally proposed.
As I said, the Government also listened to concerns about the higher costs of energy for people living in island and rural communities.
I felt strongly that hard-to-reach homes should not be forgotten about when we are dealing with national targets, so I lodged amendments that were accepted at stage 2. I also got some minor changes agreed to at stage 3, whereby the Government must be seen to be working to reduce fuel poverty at the level of each local authority, and the fuel poverty targets are to be targets at the local level. I was very careful not to place the onus on councils, but I did not want a national figure, which would run the danger of areas such as our islands, where fuel poverty is high and harder to combat, being overlooked.
A bill that was once lacklustre and unambitious is now focused, strong and achievable—and I think that that is what we all want today.
If the bill is passed—I hope that it will be—that will be the result of nearly a year of scrutiny. It is a very good example of committee working and of parliamentarians being listened to. There were areas of disagreement—of course there were—but we are in a good place and the bill could change lives. If I can take one thing from the whole experience, it is not to get on the wrong side of Jackie Baillie on anything.
Labour will vote in support of the bill, mainly on the ground that any target is better than no target.
We know that the last target that was set by Parliament, which was to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016, was not achieved by successive Governments. The aim today of getting fuel poverty down to 5 per cent of households by 2040 is of small comfort to those who are living in fuel poverty. We believe that, across the chamber, we should be more ambitious in tackling fuel poverty. Should we not at least try to be bolder in tackling fuel poverty, and work together to do all that is necessary to eradicate it? I had hoped that we could find consensus on setting a more ambitious target, but as we saw last week, the SNP and Tory MSPs across the chamber teamed up to vote down the more ambitious target of reducing fuel poverty to 5 per cent of households by 2032.
That issue was raised at stage 2, after the stage 1 report. The answer that I gave to Mr Dornan then is the same as I will give him today: I have listened to organisations and to people living in fuel poverty up and down Scotland, who say that the 2040 target is not ambitious enough. Surely, the job of politicians in this chamber is to listen to what people say.
The SNP and Tory arguments are built around the Scottish Government claiming that it does not have access to all the drivers of fuel poverty and that yet-to-be-developed technologies would be needed. When it comes to income, they say that we have no powers. However, Norman Kerr from Energy Action Scotland said:
“The Scottish Government may not have access to all the drivers, but it has access to some that would certainly mitigate fuel costs in particular.”
On the question of being more ambitious and aiming for a 2032 target, Mr Kerr said:
“We need to scale up the ambition. We could all say that 2040 sounds absolutely fine, but that would not give a step change in productivity levels or in the number of homes that are tackled each year. In all honesty, it condemns another generation to live in fuel poverty. The 2032 target is based on what we can reasonably expect in a number of parliamentary sessions and with an increase in the budget.—[
Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee
, 21 November 2018; c 6 and 11.]
The point about the budget is key, because if we are to have any chance of tackling fuel poverty using the levers that are within our control, there must be an increase in the levels of funding. We are nowhere near the level of budget that will be required to tackle the level of poor housing. It is about time that the Government woke up to that fact and acknowledged what needs to be done. If it wants to be ambitious for Scotland, it needs to be bold, and to put the money in and not rely on the Tories’ help to kick fuel poverty into the long grass. That point was made by Norman Kerr when he talked in the evidence session about insulating homes against rising costs. He pointed out that the more energy efficient the home, the less energy it will use.
A report that was published earlier this year by KPMG, working on behalf of the Scottish Government, said that, in 2016, 1.8 million homes failed to reach the energy protection certificate rating C benchmark. Therefore, meeting the 2040 target would equate to roughly 66,000 buildings requiring major improvements each year over the next two decades. Of course, achieving that will require much more funding than is currently available, which perhaps goes some way towards explaining why the Tories and the SNP are so unambitious when it comes to fuel poverty.
In the social rented sector, landlords have been required for some time to improve energy efficiency—
I am delighted to have contributed to the work on the bill throughout its parliamentary stages since its introduction, about a year ago. I thank stakeholders—the Existing Homes Alliance, Energy Action Scotland, Di Alexander and others—for engaging constructively with the bill. I also thank my colleagues on the committee, the clerks and the Scottish Parliament information centre.
The passage of the bill has been a collegiate process, and I commend the way in which the minister has positively engaged with me and my colleagues in other parties to improve the bill. I think that, together, we have pushed the ambitions of the bill further, particularly on the scrutiny around the securing of the target.
It remains disappointing that this is not a warm homes bill, which the SNP manifesto promised. However, the debate gives us an opportunity to reflect on where we have got to with the legislation.
It is encouraging that, following stage 2, we now have a bill before us that does its best to seek to eradicate fuel poverty in Scotland. Of course, it simply sets out targets and definitions; the real work of doing all of that will be in implementing the fuel poverty strategy, which will be done by partners in local government and other stakeholders, who have a big job to do over the next 20 years or so.
Amendments that were proposed at stage 2 have strengthened the bill, making it a far more robust piece of legislation. Those changes include the provision of additional heating regimes, which is the result of an amendment that was lodged by Jackie Baillie—despite being thwarted at stage 2, she tenaciously pursued the issue at stage 3 and persuaded the Scottish Government to make some amendments in that regard. Likewise, taking a cross-party approach has ensured that the fuel poverty strategy considers the four drivers of fuel poverty. I am glad that they are in the strategy, and I thank colleagues including Alexander Burnett and Alex Rowley for helping that to happen. Alexander Burnett’s famous £60 million amendment was not agreed to, but he nevertheless made an important contribution to amending that section.
I pay particular tribute to Alex Rowley for his amendment on the Scottish fuel poverty advisory panel, because, after stage 1, one of the things that we were quite clear about was that, if the target is to have the best chance of being achieved, there needs to be independent scrutiny of not only where we are in relation to the target but why we are there and what we might do in the future. The work of that panel will be critical to our meeting the target.
A good compromise is often cited as being a situation in which both parties are dissatisfied with the outcome, but I do not think that that is the case with the bill. The cross-party working and the engagement by the minister, particularly in developing an enhanced definition of minimum income, a definition of extreme fuel poverty and an improved definition of the fuel poverty strategy and in elevating the role of the Scottish fuel poverty advisory panel, is to be commended. That is a good example of cross-party working, and it has given me pleasure to work with colleagues to secure such improvements to the legislation.
There are, of course, disappointments. It is disappointing that the amendment that would have provided for more ambition in tackling fuel poverty by setting a target of 2032 was not agreed to. What happened undermines the Scottish Government’s assertion, in its response to the committee’s report, that Scotland will be
“amongst the very best in the world in terms of tackling fuel poverty.”
It also compromises the Scottish Government’s recent climate emergency declaration. This was the opportunity to tie the fuel poverty target to other targets on energy efficiency.
Nevertheless, we are where we are, and I say sincerely that we have a good bill. My Green colleagues and I will support it at decision time.
The choice between heating one’s home and eating a meal is not one that anyone should have to face in this day and age. The sad fact, however, is that, according to Government statistics, around 613,000 households are estimated to be living in fuel poverty, with 174,000 in extreme fuel poverty.
Fuel poverty blights communities up and down Scotland, yet we know that people who live in remote rural and island communities consistently experience the highest levels of fuel poverty and extreme fuel poverty. There are many reasons for that, including longer, harsher winters, homes being off the gas grid, more properties being hard to heat, lower average household incomes and higher costs of installing energy-saving measures. All those factors play their part in placing Orkney uncomfortably at the top of the pile when it comes to fuel poverty. That is why it was disappointing that the bill, as drafted, took so little account of the rural and island dimension, ignoring the advice of the Scottish rural fuel poverty task force and almost every individual and organisation that works in the sector across the Highlands and Islands and other rural parts of Scotland.
To his credit, the minister listened to the case that I made on behalf of those stakeholders and communities, which was supported by colleagues from across the parties. The amendments that we were able to agree to at stage 2 will, I hope, ensure that the needs of people in remote rural and island communities are recognised and then met through the provision of the additional resources that will inevitably be required. Again, I put on record my thanks to all those in Orkney who helped to build the case: Orkney Islands Council, Orkney Housing Association and Tackling Household Affordable Warmth Orkney, or THAW. Special mention must also be made of Di Alexander, the chair of the rural fuel poverty task force, who gave such compelling evidence to the committee and proved to be the most tenacious advocate for the communities that he has served over many years.
Of course, those were not the only changes that were made to the bill. Indeed, it was striking how progress in strengthening the bill was made thanks to the efforts of each and every member of the committee, as well as others. As a result, the Scottish fuel poverty advisory panel will be on a statutory footing, with scope for recommending that targets be made more ambitious. There will be a requirement on each local authority to make progress towards achieving the targets and interim targets, so that no area or community is left behind. There will also be greater flexibility in assessing need so that resources can be more effectively targeted. All four drivers of fuel poverty will be taken into account. In relation to those and other improvements to the bill, I acknowledge the efforts of colleagues from each of the other parties and the minister, who worked constructively to reach agreement. It remains to be seen whether our failure to agree to Andy Wightman’s amendment on commencement will come back to haunt us—that would be the revenge of the geek.
It is important to bear in mind that the benefits of reducing fuel poverty go far beyond simply removing the need for people to choose between heating and eating. All the evidence shows that lifting people out of fuel poverty improves their physical and mental health. It is unsurprising that living in a warm and dry home increases educational attainment as well. Local jobs are created and sustained in the energy-efficiency and low-carbon heat industries, and households have greater energy security and more money to spend. Our ambitions for tackling climate change rely on our making progress in improving the energy efficiency of our housing stock.
For all those reasons and more, the bill matters. However, in passing this much-improved bill this evening, we will have done the easy part. We will then need to make sure that it and the fuel poverty strategy make a difference to the individuals, households and communities that, for too long, have been blighted by fuel poverty. For now, I have pleasure in confirming that the Scottish Liberal Democrats will support the Fuel Poverty (Targets, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill at decision time later this afternoon.
I am delighted to be given the opportunity to speak in this important debate, which further enhances Scotland’s reputation as a world leader when it comes to addressing fuel poverty.
Regardless of their income or employment status, everyone should be able to heat their homes and keep themselves and their families warm. It is absolutely unacceptable that people are still having to choose between keeping themselves warm and keeping themselves from being hungry. According to recent research, the UK has the second-worst rate of excess winter deaths in Europe, with more than 3,000 deaths every year being caused by people not being able to afford to heat their homes. That shows why action was necessary.
Indeed, the Scottish Government has already taken action, backed up by significant investment, to improve energy efficiency and thereby to keep homes warm and bills down. Recent figures show that 97,000 households in Scotland moved out of fuel poverty in 2015. Those figures are good, but faced with high fuel bills, we know that we still have much more to do to eradicate fuel poverty.
As the convener of the Local Government and Communities Committee, I sincerely thank all the members of the committee, the people who appeared before us and those who submitted evidence, and the minister and all his officials. It would be remiss of me not to also thank the committee’s clerking team, along with their colleagues from SPICe and outreach services, for all the fantastic work that they did to allow us to find out about the true impact of fuel poverty and the best way to combat it. I think that all members of the committee would agree that, throughout the bill’s progress, the minister has been incredibly helpful, and I am grateful for his co-operation over the past few months. The burgeoning bromance between him and the always constructive and cheery Graham Simpson has been a joy to behold.
I turn to some of the stage 3 amendments to the bill. I am delighted that MSPs voted in favour of the Scottish Government amendments that were moved on Thursday. Most of them were technical or tidying amendments, many of which I know already had the backing of a number of members. At stage 1, I expressed my concern about the fact that the Government did not accept the committee’s recommendation to put the Scottish fuel poverty advisory panel on a statutory footing. I am very pleased that the Government now supports that.
On that note, I would like to comment briefly on the Government’s amendment 60, Alex Rowley’s amendment 96 and Andy Wightman’s amendment 60A. I was pleased that amendment 96, as well as Mr Rowley’s other amendments to make the panel a statutory consultee for the strategy and the preparation of the periodic report, were agreed to. However, I could not support amendment 60A. The Scottish Government supported the statutory advisory panel, because the cap will mean that administrative costs will not be excessive and resources will be focused on tackling fuel poverty on the front line rather than backroom functions. Amendment 60 introduced a new three-yearly cost cap of £82,000 on the statutory panel, which was calculated on the basis of the cost of a panel of similar size to the existing non-statutory body. However, with amendment 60A, there was a real risk that the panel would cost the public purse a lot of money that could otherwise be spent on improving people’s lives at home.
I was delighted that the group 2 amendments failed to garner the necessary support. Although I recognise that Mr Rowley’s amendments were well intentioned, the Local Government and Communities Committee scrutinised the bill carefully, took evidence from a number of people and concluded that the 2040 target date was realistic and achievable. Mr Rowley regularly asks for budgets to be increased on a number of fronts, particularly in relation to fuel poverty. Given that we have limited resources to grow the economy, we have limited resources to increase budgets. In my view—this was also the view of the committee in its stage 1 report—there is no credible alternative plan that shows that bringing the target date forward by eight years could be achieved without major risk. It was even suggested that pushing for the earlier target of 2032 could, in some cases, lead to increased fuel poverty levels as a result of higher installation or operating costs for householders, or could bring forward mandatory intervention in homes. To pursue an unrealistic target would be to ignore the many concerns that have been raised, including by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which said that setting unrealistic targets was callous. That was based on our experience of the 2016 target, which Alex Rowley mentioned and which we never came near to meeting.
I am very proud that we have reached this stage of the Fuel Poverty (Targets, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill. It says a lot for the maturity of this Parliament, Government ministers and members that we are on the verge of making this incredibly important bill law by working together. I look forward to decision time, when we will officially make the bill law so that it can begin to benefit the lives of the many Scots who are still suffering from the blight of having to choose between eating and heating. For me, this is a good day to be an MSP.
I am delighted to participate in today’s stage 3 debate on the Fuel Poverty (Targets, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill. It is undoubtedly a positive step forward in tackling fuel poverty in Scotland, which is what we needed. It is concerning that estimates suggest that, in Scotland today, a quarter of households live in fuel poverty, with the figure rising to more than 50 per cent of households in Orkney and the Western Isles.
Fuel poverty is driven by many factors, including energy costs, energy inefficiency, household incomes and energy use. We have to acknowledge that we do not have control over all those factors. The target that was set in 2001 to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016 has clearly not been met. Government efforts have focused on improving the energy efficiency of homes, but rising energy costs have meant that fuel poverty levels are now significantly higher than they were when the target was set back in 2001.
As we set out in our 2016 manifesto, the Scottish Conservatives are committed to reducing fuel poverty and to ensuring that everyone lives in an easy-to-heat home. To that end, we have been broadly supportive of the bill from its initial stages. We also supported the recommendations of the Local Government and Communities Committee, which I am a member of, and I thank everybody who gave evidence and all those who participated in the process for ensuring that we had a positive dialogue throughout the whole journey of the bill.
The bill takes a welcome approach, clearly setting out a revised definition of fuel poverty based on the calculation of a minimum income standard that takes account of living costs. We also welcome the fact that the Scottish Government will publish a fuel poverty strategy and will consult those who are living or who have lived in fuel poverty prior to its publication.
We were not able to support Alex Rowley’s amendment to bring forward the target year from 2040 to 2032, because we believe that that is unrealistic and the 2040 target was much more talked about through the whole process. Instead, we lodged an amendment that set out a target that, in 2035,
“no more than 10% of households in Scotland are in fuel poverty, ... no more than 3% of households in Scotland are in extreme fuel poverty,” and that the median fuel poverty gap would not be more than £300 in 2015 prices, once inflation was taken into account. As with the stage 2 amendment to include an interim target for 2030 of no more than 15 per cent of households being in fuel poverty and no more than 5 per cent of households being in extreme fuel poverty, this 2035 target will ensure that we continue to keep momentum as we go towards the 2040 target.
Local authorities want to play their part in addressing the issue and we therefore lodged an amendment on the 2040 target, to require councils to report on their achievements to reach that target in that timescale.
We also support the new section on the Scottish fuel poverty advisory panel, which covers ministers’ duties to provide financial resources and stipulates the total maximum costs that can be allocated for the panel.
I welcome the bill and I support the amendments that I have covered and that were outlined in the debate. Fuel poverty remains a massive issue for many individuals. We have heard that some people need to decide whether to heat their home or feed themselves. That is something that we have to acknowledge and tackle in Scotland today. The bill is a significant step. We still have a long way to go to ensure that the majority of people feel safe and secure, but we can be proud of what we have put in place today. I support the bill.
I declare an interest as an honorary vice-president of Energy Action Scotland.
As a minister in the first, Labour-led Scottish Government, I was responsible for establishing the fuel poverty target, so I will start with a look back, because history is always instructive.
It was the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 that committed the Scottish ministers to ensuring that, by November 2016,
“so far as reasonably practicable, ... persons do not live in fuel poverty”.
At the time, we all felt that it was an ambitious target, but it was one on which all the parties across the Parliament agreed. It is not often that we find issues that transcend the political divide, so it is disappointing that, with that level of consensus, we failed to meet the target.
In reflecting on what happened in the past, we can understand where we went wrong and therefore what we need to do in the future. In 2008, there was a members’ business debate on the subject; at that point, MSPs thought that the target was tough but achievable. Nicola Sturgeon, when she was Deputy First Minister, reconvened the Scottish fuel poverty forum specifically to provide advice to ministers on how to refocus the policy and how to achieve the target. At that stage, we were still talking about eradicating fuel poverty and achieving the 2016 target.
In 2011, members of that forum told ministers, parliamentary committees and the Parliament that, unless there was a substantial increase in resource, we would fail to meet the 2016 target. As I recall, the spending level back in 2012-13 was £65 million. At that time, the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee said that in the order of £100 million to £170 million was needed to achieve the target. If we strip away financial transaction moneys, which can be used only for loans, the budget now is still less than £100 million. Last year, the budget was underspent, which has been a feature in previous years, although I know that it is difficult to put loans into a budget and expect them to be fully utilised.
We need an ambitious target, a route map for how to achieve it—which is the strategy—and a mechanism to monitor implementation closely, but we also need to have enough money in the budget to realise our ambitions. I am interested in whether the minister has assessed what budget will be needed. Does he have an indication of what money will be required to achieve the target by 2040?
The bill has been improved by the Government, the committee and other members since its introduction. I welcome that and the minister’s willingness to discuss changes. However, it will come as no surprise to him that I remain disappointed that the target of taking fuel poverty down to 5 per cent by 2040 remains unchanged. That is genuinely lacking in ambition. It is a reduction of just 1 per cent a year and it potentially condemns yet another generation to fuel poverty. The target should be 2032, and I am genuinely sorry that the Government, aided and abetted by the Tories, has chosen to ignore the voices of experts in the field of fuel poverty, such as the Existing Homes Alliance and Energy Action Scotland, all of which evidenced the need for a more ambitious target.
James Dornan hit the nail on the head when he suggested that there is a burgeoning bromance between Graham Simpson and the minister—that can be seen, too, in the Planning (Scotland) Bill. Clearly, I frighten Graham Simpson, and I am so sorry about that, but let me say as gently as I can to him that interim targets are no substitute for ending fuel poverty a full eight years earlier. The process is slower than it needs to be. We could have interim targets with a 2032 target as well.
I am pleased to participate in this stage 3 debate on the Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill. In reflecting on the legislative process with regard to the bill, in addition to thanking the Local Government and Communities Committee clerks and SPICe for all their hard work, I pay tribute to the way in which the minister has conducted matters throughout the process. It has been a constructive process and it is clear that all members of the committee were four-square behind the key principle that underlies the bill, which is to set a target to reduce fuel poverty in Scotland.
The ambitious and realistic target that the Parliament has agreed to is to reduce fuel poverty to no more than 5 per cent of households by 2040. Of course, much of the discussion focused on the target. It should be recalled that, in the committee’s stage 1 report, after hearing all the oral evidence and studying all the written evidence that the committee received, all committee members across all parties supported the approach set forth in the bill. The report said:
“the Committee ... understands ... that this approach is a pragmatic response to previous attempts to set a target, which ultimately failed. We also recognise arguments that reducing fuel poverty will lean heavily on applying technologies still in development and that it is realistic to build in time for these to come on-stream.”
The committee went on to conclude:
“The Committee therefore accepts the Government’s reasons for setting the target date at 2040.”
However, that acceptance of the main tenet of the bill was conditional on the Government lodging amendments at stage 2 on a statutory interim target. The Government did so, and the approach has been further strengthened at stage 3, with a further interim target being agreed to. At the same time, the Scottish fuel poverty advisory panel will be able to propose an acceleration of the target, if circumstances permit.
That seems to me to be the best way to proceed. It is the pragmatic way and it reflects the approach that is favoured by those who will have to deliver the fuel poverty strategy on the ground, including local authorities. It is also, as a matter of necessity, the only approach that is open to us, given that two of the four key drivers of fuel poverty—energy prices and household incomes—fall outwith the absolute control of the Scottish Government.
Concomitant with the target date is the key definition of fuel poverty itself, the focus being very much on people who are most in need. At the same time, the fact that the minister acceded to the committee’s calls to set a separate target for tackling extreme fuel poverty, and the provisions on enhanced heating for those with disabilities and long-term illnesses, are to be welcomed. I, too, look forward to the work that is being undertaken to develop the fuel poverty strategy that will underpin the bill.
As I said at stage 1, it is absolutely unacceptable that people in Scotland—an energy-rich nation—are living in fuel poverty. While SNP members will use every power that is at our disposal to resolve that, it is self-evident that, without control over all our resources and all the levers of fuel poverty—that is to say, without the powers of a normal, independent country—we will continue to be constrained in what we can do. Labour members seem quite happy to see that continue and to see Tory rule rather than home rule. That is as unacceptable to me as it is to an increasing number of people in my constituency of Cowdenbeath, as well as people across Scotland. Only with independence will we see real social justice in Scotland.
I welcome the reintroduction of a fuel poverty target, the previous one having been missed. Scottish Labour supports the bill. We welcome the new definition of fuel poverty and the work of the
Local Government and Communities Committee in amending the bill to make it a great deal better than it would otherwise have been. However, I am very disappointed in the bill’s narrow scope: I believe that it should have been a warm homes bill. At least in passing, the bill has to be part of a centrepiece of wider policy on warm homes.
As the minister said, fuel poverty is a serious challenge, but that is all the more reason why the bill should have been wider in scope. Last year, in announcing £54 million-worth of funding to help to eradicate fuel poverty, the First Minister said that the investment
“highlights our ... commitment to ... tackle fuel poverty and reduce greenhouse gas emissions”,
recognising the important link between the two.
I believe that there have been two significant amendments to the bill. The first, on an uplift for rural communities, is extremely welcome. I am sure that Liam McArthur does not need me to point out that, in Orkney, fuel poverty is the highest in Scotland, at 59 per cent, but I am also sure that he will welcome the fact that I have said so. That is one of the most significant amendments to the bill and is most welcome. Secondly, the establishment of an advisory panel gives me some hope that, in the long run, we will be able to scrutinise how we are progressing with the targets. That is a significant and very welcome amendment.
We all agree—and the evidence shows—that living in cold, draughty homes has a negative impact on people’s physical and mental health and on children’s attainment. People in Scotland live in a cold country—that speaks for itself—and, increasingly, they feel the need to heat their homes for most of the year. That should be a consideration in any policy that looks at warm homes and reducing the use of fuel.
I believe that all four of the four drivers of fuel poverty—the cost of energy, the energy efficiency of homes, how households use their energy, and household income—can be affected by Government action and policy and by legislation. The UK has the highest rate of excess winter deaths in Europe—the only figure that I could find on that related to the UK—but we know that we still face those.
The wider issues, which my amendments tried to address, are that the majority of consumers are still on standard variable tariffs and are paying way over the odds. Educating consumers about how they can change that is the role of Government. Vulnerable customers should have a programme designed for them, because the energy companies are not doing enough. I believe that they should be required to contact vulnerable customers. There could be a public information campaign to ensure that such customers are on the cheapest deals.
In my final 40 seconds or so, I want to mention the need to ensure that the centrepiece of the warm homes policy also focuses on the drive for energy efficiency within homes. I also want to mention prepayment meters, because they are used by the poorest people, who face potential disconnection. Scottish Power has a good policy on that, but ministers should check whether all energy companies are adopting the same policy to ensure that poor people are not disconnected from the energy supply.
The evidence of the success of the bill will be in the detail. We need a higher dose of ambition. One commitment that we give to the Scottish Government, despite our disappointment, is that if it makes the bill the centrepiece of wider action—[
.] Sorry, that was my alarm going off.
First, I note how pleased I am to see this bill coming through Parliament. Often we focus on the small things, and rightly so, but looking at the bigger picture this bill is the first step towards positive changes for many people across Scotland. I join my fellow Scottish Conservative colleagues in welcoming the bill and, as usual, I direct members to my entry in the register of members’ interests in relation to energy efficiency, property management and construction.
In Scotland, a quarter of households currently live in fuel poverty, with rural and island communities living with higher fuel poverty rates than urban areas. As the Existing Homes Alliance noted, nearly 1 million homes fall below the energy efficiency standard that is needed for good health and change has not been coming fast enough, causing consequential health implications and costs to the national health service.
At stage 1, we supported the bill and pledged to make amendments to strengthen it. We were concerned that the bill did not outline how the Scottish Government would be held accountable if it did not meet the targets outlined, and how issues that affect island and remote rural areas would be addressed. We were, therefore, pleased to work with members across the chamber and pleased that the Government accepted amendments that aligned with the bid for homes to reach an EPC rating of C or above by 2040.
We wished for stronger EPC targets for 2030, but we accept that adding interim targets at 2030 and 2035 will bring benefit. As my colleague Graham Simpson said last Thursday, those interim targets will ensure that by 2030 the overall fuel poverty rate will be less than 20 per cent, with a further reduction to less than 15 per cent by 2035. They will also ensure that the final aim of no more than 5 per cent of households being in fuel poverty by 2040 is reached.
I was pleased that my colleague Graham Simpson’s amendment 72 was agreed to. That required the strategy to set out the approach that Scottish ministers intend to take towards all targets and interim targets in each local authority area. With the differences that there are in fuel poverty across Scotland, that is a very welcome addition.
Andy Wightman said on Thursday that I will probably
“go down in history as ... the member who moved the £60 million amendment at stage 2.”—[
, 6 June 2019; c 74.]
I do not regret attempting to do so. For us to see any radical changes to fuel poverty levels, and to create real change in reducing carbon emissions, we need to invest now in improving energy efficiency levels. To clarify the matter to members who may simply be looking at the cost, I was seeking to ensure that there was identification of residential buildings and the work that they would require in order to reach an EPC rating of C or above by 2030.
In clarifying that his amendment was about identification, does Alexander Burnett agree that there are cheaper ways to carry out that identification in the standard EPC methodology and that new technologies are emerging? He should stick with it; he will have my support in pushing for better means of identifying the homes in Scotland that are most in need of energy efficiency measures.
We can always look to improve the EPC methodology and we always welcome discussions about how we can improve anything that ultimately will benefit people who are in fuel poverty and in cold homes. That work will be required at some point, and the sooner that it is legislated for, the better. It is just one example of an issue that Scottish Conservatives and stakeholders alike have had with this bill, in that it does not go far enough and will not bring people out of fuel poverty fast enough. Nevertheless, it is a good first step.
I note briefly my disappointment that my amendment 77 was not agreed to. It would have provided detail on the approaches that will be taken to remove poor energy performance as a driver of fuel poverty in order to meet the targets set.
To end on a positive note, as the constituency MSP for Aberdeenshire West, I am pleased to see that the bill will look after remote rural areas. By setting out a minimum income standard for such areas separately, the bill will ensure that those communities are taken care of in a realistic manner.
Overall, we welcome the bill—we are committed to reducing fuel poverty and the bill will begin the process of ensuring that that happens. As we stated in our manifesto, we are seeking the change to help households to
“save on their energy bills”,
make homes “easier to heat” and create “thousands of jobs” all over Scotland,
“all whilst reducing carbon emissions.”
It is a bit strange to have stage 3 proceedings split over two days. During consideration of amendments, I was accused of compromising with Jackie Baillie, and today I have been accused of having a bromance with Graham Simpson. I do not know what is going on; I have obviously missed something.
From listening to the debate this afternoon, it is clear that members of all parties fully appreciate that it is absolutely imperative that we remove the blight of fuel poverty from communities throughout our country. I firmly believe that the measures that are contained in the Fuel Poverty (Targets, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill will ensure that we achieve that goal.
The challenging but realistic targets that the bill will introduce will ensure that tackling fuel poverty remains a pressing issue for this and future Governments. The new definition that the bill will create will give us a better understanding of the problem than we have ever had, and it will help us to develop a comprehensive strategy to solve it.
In all this, however, I know that not everyone is satisfied. Some folk, including stakeholders, always want us to go faster. I understand that. However, we have to take cognisance of the fact that although experts whom Mr Rowley mentioned talked about a target of 2032, the folks who are delivering on the ground—including COSLA and various companies—say that that date would not have been achievable and that 2040 is the best date.
I am a man who always looks for compromise, and one of the good things about the additions to the bill is that the new fuel poverty advisory panel will be able to look at whether we can move the target date nearer. We will keep a close eye on that.
Through the “Energy Efficient Scotland” route map, we will continue to monitor how we are doing, what technologies have come into play and whether we can up the ante in moving forward faster.
I agree with everyone who has said today that no one should have to make the choice to put on their heating or eat. I think that we all feel that way, so it is incumbent on us all to scrutinise how we are doing in that regard, as we move forward. I am sure that, along with the panel, we will do so.
I will also touch on things that folks have seen on their travels. Graham Simpson talked about going to Stornoway. I went to the islands and various other places to talk to people about the changes that they want, which are now encapsulated in the bill.
Members from all parties have paid tribute to Di Alexander—he deserves the tributes that have been paid to him for his efforts. We should also take cognisance of the people in organisations and communities who made their voices heard, and whose views are now encapsulated in the bill.
I do not think that we have paid enough attention to the fact that the bill is the first bill to be island proofed: I am very grateful to everyone who has played a part in achieving that. There may be lessons that can be picked up for other bills.
Some of today’s debate has strayed on to the four drivers of fuel poverty, and some members have picked up on the fact that we do not control those drivers. I am pleased that, at stage 2, Andy Wightman and others looked at the four drivers in some depth and said that we in Parliament and the committee should in the future look at all four drivers.
Regardless of whether we all in the chamber are happy with the devolved settlement, I hope that we can all work together to persuade the UK Government to look at energy costs, particularly in respect of areas that Pauline McNeill mentioned—including prepaid meters, which are scandalous—and to do more on tariffs. We can work together across the chamber to highlight to the UK Government the changes that need to be made, from which we will, I hope, see change. I would like the powers to come here, but in the meantime, let us see what we can do together to make the required change.
Presiding Officer—I see you staring at me. Does that mean that I am almost out of time?
I will finish on this. There are still far too many people in our country who are struggling to afford to keep their homes warm. I find that to be completely unacceptable. From what I have heard from other members, I think that we are all in agreement on that—it is clear that Parliament thinks that. Let us work together and make sure that we do all that we can to take people out of fuel poverty.
The bill will help us to bring it to an end, and I hope that everyone will support it.