The Stornoway Gazette has asked our General Election candidates to give us their views on a range of topics over the last few weeks.
We wanted to find out what the five candidates positions are on the subjects which are of huge importance to the region.
The first topic up for discussion by candidates is the issue of the 2p per unit surcharge which is imposed on consumers in the Highlands aned Islands. This is a Westminster issue and one which has been widely condemned as unfair treatment of those in an area with some of the highest levels of fuel poverty in the UK.
We have also asked the candidates on a wider subject how they would like to see fuel poverty tackled in the Western Isles. The power to reduce fuel poverty lies more heavily with the Scottish Parliament but is such a horrendous fact of life for nearly three quarters of island residents that it seems appropriate to ask the candidates for their views.
Alasdair Morrison - Labour
No one reading the Stornoway Gazette in the Western Isles needs to be reminded about the challenges the weather brings in this part of the UK.
As well as a prolonged and particularly stormy winter, we have too many people living in fuel poverty - a staggering 71% of households in the Western Isles according to a recent survey.
Tackling this issue, like many other matters, requires the dedication you would expect from a hardworking MP. These issues require focus and effort.
Securing funding to insulate and provide support to economically heat island homes should have been a priority for any MP, imbued with a sense of duty and a work ethic.
Getting funds and ensuring that they are dispensed sensibly would make an immediate impact on the lives of those who are paying for ridiculously high prices for electricity in poorly insulated homes. An incoming Labour Government is committed to freezing electricity prices for 18 months and fixing the electricity markets.
We also need to fight for funds to fix the homes. That has an equally important secondary impact - providing much needed employment.
As a candidate I am happy to sign up the Affordable Warmth Manifesto for the Highlands and Islands.
That commitment also extends to ensuring that the electricity surcharge we are paying is removed. Time for a change and time for the hard work begin.
Angus Macneil SNP
The electricity surcharge faced by these islands and other rural areas of the UK including Wales has continued for decades with disinterested parties in the shape of either Labour or the Tories and lately the Liberals doing nothing about it.
This election enables Scotland and the concerns of Scotland to become centre stage if we vote SNP. What could be of larger concern to the electricity consumers of Scotland than the unfair price differential the UK presides over?
During the referendum, much was made by Labour and their Tory allies of the broad shoulders of the UK, what they didn’t tell you is that there is no sign of these broad shoulders when you open your electricity bill.
We see the same situation as regards renewable energy being transferred from the islands and most newsworthy lately the tens of millions of pounds in transmission charges that the Longannet Power Plant has to pay to access the UK Grid, whereas similar power stations closer to London are actually paid a subsidy to do the same thing. The UK energy market needs reform for the benefit of both producers and consumers.
Fuel poverty is of course affected by some of these factors and only a strong SNP will bring about a change that others have failed to do for decades.
John Cormack - Scottish Christian Party
Being able to heat your home properly is a basic human need and a staggering four out of five householders on the island are quite literally being left out in the cold. This is the ugly side of capitalism where profits are put before people.
Fairness from big energy companies who are raking in cash, and reduction in the cost of electricity, is long overdue. However, not many people outwith the area know that electricity costs 2p per unit more for those living in the Highlands and Islands. I would start, therefore, by drawing attention to this issue at a national level. Only when people are aware there is a problem can we start to address it. Energy suppliers must be made to do the right thing and be shamed into action.
Furthermore, I would fight to get the inter-connector to the national grid completed as soon as possible. The delay is holding the island back, preventing it from harnessing the power of renewables as an export source.
Christianity is considered past its best. Nevertheless, the values it promotes will never be outdated.
The Christian faith is about making people’s lives better and I shall work extremely hard to do just that.
Mark Brown - Scottish Conservatives
It is grossly unfair that people living in the Western Isles should pay more for the delivery of electricity because of where they live.
The surcharge of 2p per unit has had a serious impact on fuel poverty on these Islands and if elected on May 7th, I will champion the cause to continue the fight to ensure the same price is paid in the Western Isles as everybody else.
It was encouraging to see the Conservative Chancellor announce in his recent budget that the UK Government will consult on reducing electricity distribution costs. A 2p reduction would have a significant impact on fuel poverty, with an average household using 15,000 units per year saving £300.
Fuel poverty is also exacerbated on the Outer Hebrides by poorly insulated, highly exposed homes with poor heating systems. The Scottish Government have a remit to address the energy efficiency of Scotland’s homes and they must work harder to help tackle this matter too and I would continue to lobby through my colleagues at Holyrood for this to be acted upon with the utmost urgency.
Political tribalism must however be pushed to one side to work on establishing a plan to help alleviate this and I will work alongside all interested parties to look at ways to reduce the frightening statistic that 71% of Western Isles households are currently in fuel poverty compared to a 27% Scottish average.
Ruaraidh Ferguson - Scottish Liberal Democrats
Fuel Poverty has become a bit of a buzz word, with politicians throwing the phrase around, often with no real understanding of the issue. Fuel Poverty isn’t a condition in itself, its mobile and a symptom of the larger economy combined with a variety of local conditions.Fuel poverty is influenced by such a range of factors that there is no one single measure that would totally eradicate it, other than free energy for all. It is inextricably linked to food banks, child poverty, low wages, zero hour contracts, low pensions etc. as is any other kind of poverty
We have to look more closely at the governments relationship with energy companies. It has to be remembered that energy companies are responsible to their shareholders, not the government and as such are we really surprised that they fail to hit efficiency and social targets set by government, what other business is expected to encourage customers to use less of their product.Any reduction in the cost of electricity has to be welcomed and the local campaign to reduce the transmission cost has to be lauded however within the private market, electricity included, the cost of anything is always cheaper nearest to the highest levels of population. The transmission charges are part of an outdated national grid system and I suspect Scottish and Southern have little appetite to change this. The interconnector should have been here years ago and one has to wonder why Shetland and Orkney are so far ahead of us in this, surely it’s not as simple as having elected officials willing to work with the local authority.