Scottish Lib Dems criticised over fuel price inaction

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    Senior Scottish Lib Dems have been attacked by the SNP over the coalition’s inaction in relation to rising fuel prices in Scotland’s rural areas.

    SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson MP criticised Tory and Lib Dem ministers after learning that no formal request to the European Commission for the introduction of a rural fuel derogation has been made.

    A fuel derogation mechanism would allow the remotest areas of Scotland to be protected from the surge in fuel prices caused by rocketing oil prices and the coalition’s increase in fuel duty.

    Mr Robertson raised the issue at Scottish Questions when he asked the Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore why, two years after his party pledged to introduce a rural fuel discount scheme, the Liberal Democrats were still sitting on their hands.

    Speaking after the exchange, Mr Robertson said:

    “Lib Dem Ministers are sitting on their hands while the country is crying out for action to bring down fuel prices.  Ministers have not even bothered to make a formal request to the European Commission for the introduction of a rural derogation.

    “No issue better shows why the Scottish Parliament needs the economic and financial tools to act in the interests of our communities and the travelling public.  Westminster, where the powers currently lie, has failed to do anything, and the Tories and Lib Dems have reneged on their pre-election promises.

    “This is a huge issue on the doorstep and the forecourts – and the SNP will make it central to the Scottish election in May.  It is a key illustration of why we need to build up Scotland’s Parliament, and equip it with the full powers of financial responsibility.

    Mr Hosie’s attack follows figures that show the UK Treasury will rake in £12 billion over the next year as a result of North Sea oil, this is £2 billion more than originally forecast.  The SNP’s Finance Secretary John Swinney has already written to Chancellor George Osborne urging him to introduce a regulator to keep overall fuel prices in check.

    Mr Hosie added:

    “The UK Treasury will collect an additional £2 billion in tax from North Sea oil revenues this year, on top of the £10 billion previously forecast.  Scotland’s significant wealth from North Sea oil should be used to help its people and businesses rather than simply filling Treasury coffers in London.

    “The SNP is doing what we can to keep costs down for families and businesses with a freeze in the council tax, reduced business rates, and free prescription charges, but the UK government are refusing to act.”

    Scottish Secretary of State Michael Moore claimed that the Treasury was “working very hard” on addressing the issue.

    Mr Moore said, “I recognise that the recent increase in fuel prices is a real challenge for individuals and businesses which is why the Government is looking very closely at ways in which we can tackle that issue including proposals for a fuel duty stabiliser.

    “…the importance for Scotland and the whole of the UK is to get a regime for fuel duty which reflects the challenges particularly in rural parts of the country.  On the specific area of the derogation, then he [Mr Hosie] will be aware that the Government is working very hard on ensuring we can get the right processes in Europe so we get the power up and running as quickly as possible.”

    This week campaigners warned that the £8 gallon was getting closer and the RAC said prices could rise to £1.75 a litre.

    RAC spokesman Philip Gomm claimed that oil prices would not have to reach the historic high of $147 a barrel in order to cause hardship.  He said, “However, it doesn’t need to go that high again for fuel prices to rise to £8 a gallon, given the present price at the forecourts.

    “If the economic recovery continues and demand for oil increases again, Opec could decide to limit the supply as they did before the recession in 2008, and push prices back up towards the record high of $147 a barrel.

    “However, the government would have to intervene long before then.  Who has got the money to pay £1.75 for a litre of petrol?”

    Angus MacNeil, Western Isles MP and SNP transport spokesman at Westminster, described the situation as “completely unsustainable” and said, “It is over £6.50 a gallon in the islands at the moment.  If it continues to rise at over 50p every five weeks, at that stage we will reach £8 a gallon by May.”

    Mr MacNeil claimed that Chief Treasury Secretary and Highland MP Danny Alexander, would “feel the force of the ballot box” in May if nothing was done.{jcomments on}