Remote and Rural Communities (Lothian)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 19th May 2022.

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Photo of Jeremy Balfour Jeremy Balfour Conservative

5. To ask the Scottish Government what support it provides to remote and rural communities in the Lothian region. (S6O-01106)

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

In the previous LEADER-funded programme, the Tyne Esk area, which covers Midlothian and East Lothian, was allocated £3.5 million, and West Lothian was allocated £2.1 million over the six-year programme. In 2021-22, the Scottish Government made available more than £100,000 of ring-fenced funding for rural communities in the Tyne Esk and West Lothian areas. More than £360,000 will also be made available this financial year to continue valuable community-led work in rural communities across the Tyne Esk area and West Lothian.

Photo of Jeremy Balfour Jeremy Balfour Conservative

Support in Mind Scotland believes that there needs to be increased opportunities to talk about mental health and wellbeing in non-medical environments, such as clubs, venues and meeting places, and that a light model of social prescribing should be adopted in which individuals are informed of support or opportunities in their community to tackle loneliness. Will the cabinet secretary commit to exploring that approach to support people in rural communities, especially in my region?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

I am more than happy to look at any initiatives that can help in offering that support. I know that people are under a lot of pressure right now, particularly in our rural communities. I am happy to engage further with Jeremy Balfour on that matter.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Is the cabinet secretary aware that many of my constituents in the Linlithgow constituency in West Lothian who live in rural and remote communities rely on liquefied petroleum gas and oil heaters in off-grid homes? Prices for home heating oil are increasing by as much as 126 per cent, and households that rely on heating oil are not currently subject to the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets price cap, which leaves them vulnerable to uncontrolled price increases. They face a very difficult winter. Will the cabinet secretary commit to working with Cabinet colleagues to identify what specific immediate support can be made available to those individuals in rural and remote areas, many of whom are elderly and on fixed incomes?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

I am more than happy to commit to that, because I know that heating oil and LPG consumers face significant increases in their energy costs. Of course, powers relating to energy pricing are reserved, which means that the Scottish Government cannot act to provide additional protection for those consumers, but we have engaged with the United Kingdom Government to raise concerns about the recent unprecedented rises in heating fuel costs for off-grid customers in parts of Scotland, and we have stressed the urgent need for protections for those consumers.

Nonetheless, we are doing everything that we can with the powers that we have to assist those who are worst affected. We have recently allocated a further £10 million to our fuel insecurity fund. That fund is delivered through trusted third sector partners, including the Fuel Bank Foundation and Advice Direct Scotland, which administers our home heating support fund. I urge those who are in need of that support to get in touch with those organisations.