08 October 2013

S4M-07036 Energy Action Scotland

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-07036, in the name of Nigel Don, on Energy Action Scotland marks its 30th anniversary. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament acknowledges that the national fuel poverty charity, Energy Action Scotland, marks its 30th anniversary in 2013; understands that the charity campaigns for warm, dry homes that are affordable to heat; believes that, during its 30 years of campaigning in Angus North and Mearns and across the country, much progress has been made in tackling the major causes of fuel poverty; understands that Energy Action Scotland estimates that there are 900,000 fuel poor households in Scotland, and, while it considers that much has still to be done if the statutory duty of eradicating fuel poverty by 2016 is to be achieved, welcomes what it sees as the positive moves by successive Scottish administrations to tackle fuel poverty.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I thank Nigel Don for the opportunity to debate this important subject.

It is not often that the chamber comes together in unanimity with the objective of increasing unemployment in Scotland, but we all want Norrie Kerr and the rest of his group to be entirely superfluous, unrequired and out of work. However, we should weep no tears if we succeed in that because there are plenty of other opportunities for which a formidable campaigner such as Norrie and a team like his would deploy their skills.

For rural dwellers such as those whom I represent, Energy Action Scotland, which was created 30 years ago, focuses on key rural issues. It looks for effective solutions, hounds Government and searches for private investment. We should all hold that national charity dear to our hearts in the present environment because, when we address fuel poverty, we also address employment and climate change.

In my constituency, as elsewhere, about 31 per cent of rural dwellers spend more than 10 per cent of their income on fuel alone. Largely, they, like me, live in off-grid circumstances. In a country as wealthy as ours, that really is an unacceptable situation.

The Government is clear in the financial commitments that it is making to deal with that. Some £250 million has been allocated to fuel poverty and energy efficiency in the current spending period. That is a good step in the right direction.

I am not so sure that colleagues south of the border—who are faced with a less pressing problem from geography, of course—are as keen on supporting low-income families in particular. The minister, from whom we will hear at the end of the debate, has previously assured me that, in an independent Scotland, an expert committee would consider energy regulation. I will continue to work to allow her that opportunity.

Energy efficiency is really a rather simple measure. A number of members referred to home insulation. We have been lucky enough to get our loft insulation from 200mm up to 600mm. We are just going into the first winter in which we will get the full benefit, but it has already been so effective that my wife thought that the outside meter on our oil tank had stopped working. She sent me to get the ladder to go and look in the top of the tank to see what the actual level of fuel was because she felt that it should be much lower than the meter said it was. The meter was correct.

That simple intervention has made a dramatic difference for us, as it will do for others, so I hope that the installation programme continues to offer people in rural areas in particular the opportunity to save on their energy.

One of the issues of living in a rural setting is that people pay more for their fuel. I hope that Mike Weir, my MP colleague in Westminster, is successful in persuading the members there that we should advance winter fuel payments so that the less-well-off in rural settings can buy fuel earlier in the year when it is cheaper and easier to deliver because there is no snow on the ground to prevent the lorries from getting to their fuel tanks.

I gently chide my colleague Murdo Fraser, because I am not sure that green energy is more expensive than other forms. The above-the-line costs that appear in budgets are certainly reflected but the tax breaks that other forms of energy—in particular, nuclear energy—are given are below the line and it is generally accepted that green energy is cheaper than, for example, nuclear.

It has been an excellent debate.


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