A SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT decision to cut the fuel poverty budget by up to £15million over the last year has been described as having a “blatant disregard” for communities in the north.
Highland and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant, whose constituency includes Moray, said that the decision demonstrated a lack of regard for hard pressed communities in the north and islands where fuel poverty levels range from 36% in Moray to 62% in the Western Isles.
“These are excruciatingly high figures yet our SNP government just does not seem to care,” Mrs Grant said, adding: “Instead of trying to help struggling families, they choose to slash the budget.
“In the north we have some of the worst winter conditions, we do not have the gas connections that other areas have, we are penalised by being charged 2p more per unit to get our electricity and now our SNP government piles in and cuts the budget.
“This will affect thousands of households throughout our north and island communities and I feel sure people will not forget this at the ballot box in May.”
Last night local Labour councillor and candidate for the party for the Moray seat in May’s Scottish election, Sean Morton, added his voice to condemnation of the SNP over the issue.
Councillor Morton said: “It really is incredibly disappointing that the SNP think they can treat people in Moray like this – completely ignoring a major issue for local people. Fuel poverty is a huge problem for around a third of Moray homes but it seems like the SNP couldn’t care less.
“People in Moray need the SNP to stick to their promises and meet their targets. This is what happens when you have a government that takes its eye off the ball and takes Moray votes for granted.
“Leaving pensioners in the cold is not standing up for Scotland, it’s ignoring the realities of Scotland. We will not do that. Labour would introduce a Warm Homes Act so we finally make progress on fuel poverty like we did under the last Labour government.”
Labour’s contention over the £15million cut stems from a report by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (Spice) after the Scottish Government committed £103m to improve energy efficiency and tackle fuel poverty in its Draft Budget 2016/17 – that appeared to be an increase on the previous year.
However, Spice have confirmed that the final fuel poverty budget for 2015/16 was initially £79m, but was then increased to £119m by deputy first minister John Swinney following a departmental reshuffle in February 2015.
Last month the Scottish Greens leader Patrick Harvie criticised deputy first minister John Swinney over the issue, saying: “There is clearly no chance that the fuel poverty target for 2016, this year, is going to be met.
“Isn’t that ample demonstration that, not just in the current financial year but over a number of years successive Scottish governments have not been ambitious enough on this agenda?”