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McArthur: ‘Ministers must think again on rural fuel poverty approach’

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur has welcomed evidence to the Local Government Committee showing overwhelming support for Ministers to “island proof” their Fuel Poverty Bill.

Mr McArthur attended the first day of Stage 1 evidence on the Bill on Wednesday, where the committee heard criticism of the Scottish Government’s refusal to accept the case for a specific rural Minimum Income Standard (MIS) to be used in defining fuel poverty in rural and island areas.

According to official government figures, Orkney remains the area worst-affected by fuel poverty, with around two-thirds of households estimated to be paying ten per cent or more of income on heating.  While every part of the country is affected, rural areas appear to suffer the highest levels of fuel poverty.

In the past, Mr McArthur has voiced concerns that the government’s insistence on using a single Minimum Income Standard for the whole country would make it more difficult to tackle the problem of fuel poverty in rural and islands areas. These concerns were echoed by the group of experts giving evidence to the Committee this morning.

Speaking after the committee meeting, Mr McArthur said: “Today’s evidence session left no doubt at all that the Scottish Government is now isolated over its approach to tackle fuel poverty in rural and island areas. It is increasingly clear that Ministers will have to think again and ensure their proposals are properly “island proofed”.

“In a desperate move yesterday evening, the Housing Minister issued a briefing to MSPs seeking to justify his decision not to include a rural Minimum Income Standard in the revised definition of rural fuel poverty.  This attempt by the Minister to get his retaliation in first backfired, however, as the Committee heard again today how this approach flies in the face of all the advice.

“The Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force, the government’s own Independent Panel of Advisers and every organisation across the Highlands & Islands involved in housing and fuel poverty have made plain that excluding a rural MIS risks support not going to the people and communities who need it. As a result, the government’s own targets for combatting fuel poverty across the country will be undermined.

“While fuel poverty is not simply an island issue, all the evidence shows that it affects rural and island communities more than others. Hopefully, today’s committee evidence session will persuade ministers to think again. If not, it will be up to parliament to force the government to do the right thing”.

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