By Fiona Grahame
When the SNP/Green Deal was announced, ‘not a coalition’, The Orkney News published this article on August 24th: The SNP/Green Deal: An Islands’ Perspective and in it I pointed out the parts of this ‘Coalition’ that had significant problems for islands.
I highlighted this in the article:
There will also be an immediate end to public subsidies for Oil and LPG boilers which will affect a great many people in the Highlands and Islands
This is precisely why I argued in the article that this Deal between two political parties who now form the Government of Scotland required to be put through an Islands Impact Assessment.
This decision by a Government, whose cabinet is made up entirely of MSPs who DO NOT represent any of the 3 Islands Authorities, is why Islands Proofing of the whole Deal requires to be made.
Islands Impact Assessments are part of the Islands Act – they are supposed to ensure that islanders are not significantly negatively impacted by policies by government and public bodies.
Whether you like it or not, thousands of people in Orkney require to use oil boilers. The properties which mainly (but not solely) still require to use oil, to keep their homes warm and to provide hot water, are older buildings. To change over to another form of heating is both expensive and not always possible due to the nature of some of these properties. The people hardest hit by this decision by the SNP/Green Government will be those who are already struggling to keep their homes warm.
Orkney has the highest rate of fuel poverty in Scotland. It is a low wage economy. Foodbank use has been increasing year on year , exacerbated by Covid . Food prices are high as are transport costs. People are now having to choose between heating and eating.
HomeStart Orkney produced a shocking report of how this is affecting families locally. “One parent described the family as living in one room” : Shocking Report on Housing & Heating in Orkney
Orkney Islands Councillor, John Ross Scott, who has recently joined the Scottish Greens has written to Co-Convener of the Greens Patrick Harvie, now a Scottish Government Minister.
In his letter, Councillor Scott says:
I am extremely concerned that, while well-intentioned, the move to cut funding for oil and LPG boiler replacements was done over speedily without thought for the devastating affect it is having on many who live in fuel poverty in Orkney – where we have the highest rate of fuel poverty in Scotland – and across the Highlands and Islands. The mistake needs to be urgently recognised and a stalling method put in place to make the transition smoother and less detrimental to those who need assistance most.
Councillor Scott is also a member of the Board of THAW Orkney. The charity THAW Orkney does extremely valuable work supporting people living in fuel poverty and hard to heat homes.
THAW Orkney has also been struggling with keeping its invaluable service at the high level it has always delivered its services on: Save Fuel Poverty Charity THAW Orkney
You can read here about how important its work is: THAW Orkney: Supporting Islanders With Their Energy Costs
The issue here is that there will be an immediate end to public subsidies for oil and LPG boilers.
Commenting, Robert Leslie, Manager of THAW Orkney said:
“It feels like the cart has been put before the horse when this is happening before any change in energy bills – for example moving the environmental and social policy costs off our clean, green electricity and on to gas, or into general taxation.
“It would have felt less of an injustice if we had seen this 23% removed from our electricity bills before this policy change on heating system support.
“The only other solution is going to be for the Scottish Government to support those affected with their increased operating costs.
“THAW Orkney issued over £57,000 of fuel support for clients in Orkney last year, mostly between December and March, with £24,774 of that was from the Scottish Government’s Home Heating Support Fund, which was very welcome. I suspect that we will have that level of demand again this winter as electricity prices jump and other financial support ends.
“It is obviously important for carbon reduction reasons that oil and LPG systems are replaced over time by renewables, but the fact at the moment is that there is no transition being presented – and this is certainly not a just transition, where yet again areas that are having their electricity supplied by clean, green generation are still be hammered by high prices, and now have even fewer alternatives to the cheap gas that keeps so many on mainland Scotland out of fuel poverty.”
This is what comes of policies put in place by people who do not live in islands, have no understanding of life in islands and who do not Islands Proof polices before they launch ahead with them.
Councillor John Ross Scott said:
“This sudden change in legislation will bring the Fuel Poverty issues in Orkney right back into the critical zone and decimate all the good work being undertaken over recent years by THAW, Warm Works and the council to reduce it.
“While we want to see a transition from oil and LPG to other forms of heating this cannot happen overnight or without consultation, as seems to have happened here.
“A complete rethink is required or the Scottish Government should consider giving grants for say air-to-air heat pumps, to assist local residents who have increased operational costs.”