It feels like just a few days ago that I met with Orkney delegates at the SNP conference, but I have also managed to squeeze in a welcome family break during the parliamentary recess before getting back to ‘the day job’.
We are now back at Holyrood for the autumn ‘term’ and very much focused on the business of government.
However, looking back at the conference, there were many positive announcements, not least from Party Leader Nicola Sturgeon during her keynote speech.
Perhaps the boldest, and certainly the one that was given a very warm welcome, was when she pledged that – by the end of this Parliament – the Scottish Government will set up a publicly owned, not-for-profit energy company.
This, of course, comes from our 2016 manifesto promise to explore the option of a new publicly owned energy company, and the idea at the heart of it is simple.
Renewable energy would be bought wholesale or generated here in Scotland, and sold to customers as close to cost price as possible.
There would be no shareholders to worry about, in contrast to the present dominant energy suppliers, where the bottom line is the focus rather than fair prices – and no corporate bonuses to consider.
It would give people – particularly those on low incomes – more choice and the option of a supplier whose only job is to secure the lowest price for consumers.
For Orkney, which currently tops Scotland’s fuel poverty league table, this could make a huge difference.
I am only too aware of the scale of the problem in Orkney, with figures from the fuel poverty charity THAW Orkney showing that some people would have to spend not 10%, or even 20% – but over 40% of their incomes to heat their homes adequately. In a country so plentiful in energy sources this is shameful. Everyone should have the ability to heat their homes affordably.
Lower energy prices, together with the Scottish Government’s long-term investment in a national energy efficiency programme, should provide a boost to the Orkney economy over the coming years.
Of course tourism presently is one of the main drivers of the island economy, and I would encourage Orkney groups to apply to the Scottish Government’s new Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund.
The £6m fund is a response to the tourism boom across rural Scotland, and the money will be invested over the course of two years – 2018/19 and 2019/20 – to help ensure the services and facilities tourists and communities need are provided.
The new fund will support a wide range of improvement projects – such as parking, camping facilities, recycling points and footpath access.
We have seen a significant growth in numbers visiting Orkney from all over the world in recent years. The new fund will help cater to these increasing numbers and help alleviate pressure on transport, services and facilities.
Local groups that would like to bid for this funding can get in touch with me if they need any advice.
This is a fortnightly column by local MSP Maree Todd, SNP