Thursday, 28 February 2013

Fuel poverty conference report

Today’s Fuel Poverty Conference was a first class event and the timing couldn’t have been better with the Westminster government’s imminent bedroom tax about to hit the most vulnerable in the Western Isles ,dding further to their fuel poverty.

However we learned about initiatives to address the problem which been taken locally by TEAS and TIG including the recent application of external render to 55 houses which will result in lower fuel bills.

On the national situation, in his presentation Mr. David Sigsworth, Chair of the Scottish Fuel Poverty Forum explained that the Forum had been invited by Alex Neil MSP, the then Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment, to undertake a review of the Scottish Government’s Fuel Poverty Strategy and as a result £79 million has been allocated for energy saving measures in 2013/2014.

Mr. Sigworth also contrasted that while Councils in Scotland were being tasked with the delivery of such schemes, the UK Government had asked the Utility companies which to him didn’t seem right.

We also learned from Norman Kerr, Director of Energy Action Scotland that the UK currently pays more to import gas into the UK than it charges for gas it exports from the North Sea. This seems an extraordinary situation when viewed against fuel poverty.

Finally, there was a poignant presentation from Dr Lesley Wilkie who confirmed in no uncertain terms that fuel poverty was a public health issue and she encouraged all local agencies to work together to identify signs of fuel poverty in the homes they visited in the Western Isles in order that help could be given to those in need.

In answer to a question from the floor at the end of the session Labour’s Rhoda Grant MSP wrongly seemed to link fuel poverty to the provision of universal benefits and the council tax freeze and then claimed the Scottish Government has stated that nothing would change in the country after a YES vote - implying that fuel poverty would continue in an independent Scotland – well let’s see!

I think I’m correct in saying that Nicola Sturgeon has already pledged that the bedroom tax would be the first thing to go.

Councillor Philip McLean