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The rocketing price of electricity and gas supplies is sparking protests and action-plans across the political world. 

Long-serving Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Councillor Angus McCormack, who chairs the Outer Hebrides Poverty Action Group, said yesterday (Wednesday February 9) that "people have expressed concern to me about the impending savage price rise in energy prices. One indicated that her costs would rise by 170%! Bills in the Western Isles could exceed £3,035!

"What will the Comhairle do, they ask? Usually, my response is that there is not much that the Comhairle can do directly but I am revising my view on that, and I have expressed my concern to the Leader that we may have to consider how we might provide direct support to those in real difficulties."

Highlands and Islands MSP, Rhoda Grant, said: “It is shameful that the SNP and the Tories will not entertain a windfall tax on oil and gas companies given the billions of pounds of profit being racked up by those companies.

“The Highlands and Islands has the worst fuel poverty in Scotland and the Scottish Government has stopped funding oil fired central heating, only fitting heat pumps which do not work unless homes are well insulated."

The Outer Hebrides Poverty Action Group says the Outer Hebrides has long had the highest level of fuel poverty at 40%, and child poverty stands at almost 20%.   

Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil has written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, relaying the urgency of the situation facing families in Na h-Eileanan an Iar who are set to be disproportionately hit by rocketing energy prices.  Energy regulator Ofgem announced an increase to the energy price cap last week as a result of the soaring global wholesale price of gas, which has quadrupled in the past year.

This will see almost a £700 increase in energy bills for the average household from April. Those on default tariffs will see an increase of £693 to £1,277 to £1,971 per year. Prepayment customers will see an increase of £708 from £1,309 to £2,017.  The funding of £290m for the Scottish Government from the UK Government is unlikely to go far enough and further support is needed.

Councillor McCormack agreed that "the response from the UK government has been pitiable – essentially a £200 repayable loan and maybe a council tax rebate. That is no help at all. It stands in sharp contrast to the help to be provided in France where the state-owned power company EDF has been tasked with capping rises to 4% so that it shoulders the burden of high costs.

"In Spain the government will impose a windfall tax, in Norway the government will pay 80% of people’s bills and in Portugal energy prices are capped with no increase in 2022.

"Can the Big Six of energy suppliers afford to take a hit? Well, they paid out £23 billion in dividends to their shareholders. It is the case that this Tory government cares more about shareholders than consumers."

Councillor McCormack continued: "I understand that the Scottish Government is to receive £299 million in consequential funding and Minister Michael Matheson is charged with issuing this funding to alleviate the impact of increased charges. He has denounced the UK government’s response, so I do hope that his approach is more nuanced.

"Will he listen to the suggestions from Councillor Roddie Mackay, Comhairle Leader? Firstly encourage Ofgem to charge Western Isles consumers at the same rate as people in the Central Belt rather than significantly in excess of one penny more per unit used. Both the Minister and Ofgem might remember that all legislation and government initiatives are supposed to be Island proofed by law. There has been little sign of that to date. Here is an opportunity for the Scottish Government to target resources to those areas where the need is greatest."

 Commenting on news that BP made a profit of £9.5bn in 2021, Labour's Shadow Scotland Secretary Ian Murray MP said: “With nearly £10billion in profit this year, and following Shell’s momentous year of profits, the boss of BP has described the energy price crisis as a cash machine for his company - unfortunately its families across the country providing that cash.

“With multi billion pound profits for these international corporations, it is utterly shameful that the SNP has sided with the Tories in blocking Labour’s windfall tax on oil and gas companies."

Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil said in his letter to Mr Sunak: “My constituency already suffers the worst levels of extreme fuel poverty in Scotland and this new hike in the price gap is expected to cost most households on average £693 more per year.

“Scotland is an energy-rich country and the UK has failed to invest in renewables for a long time and we are now at the mercy of gas prices.  In contrast, I understand that Norway is considering using their oil fund of about 2 trillion dollars to help consumers this year.  However, we have no such option in Scotland as the UK used our natural resources.

“The Treasury’s response to the energy price cap rise falls woefully short of what is needed to help families cope with the growing cost of living crisis as household budgets are increasingly squeezed.

“I am calling on you as Chancellor to increase support to struggling households, if the Treasury doesn’t address this, it will have grave consequences for many people, who will be forced to decide between eating and heating.”

Constituents who are struggling to pay energy bills should contact their suppliers.

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