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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Scottish Rate Resolution 2018-19, Decision Time, Tackling Fuel Poverty (Quick Credit Voucher Scheme)


Contents


Tackling Fuel Poverty (Quick Credit Voucher Scheme)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-09838, in the name of Christina McKelvie, on the quick credit voucher scheme and tackling fuel poverty in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the Quick Credit Voucher scheme from Scottish Power; believes that the scheme offers a £49 credit payment designed to support customers who are referred to foodbanks and may be in need of fuel assistance; notes that the scheme is being piloted at the Hamilton District Foodbank in the Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse parliamentary constituency; praises Scottish Power for showing, what it believes to be, an ethical and morally responsible approach in assisting customers to tackle fuel poverty; reiterates praise for the volunteers of the foodbank, noting their tireless work in providing food and assistance for over 4,015 people throughout 2016-17; believes that the Quick Credit Voucher model can be used as a template by others when offering customers support with their energy needs, and notes that other energy companies, including E.ON, npower, British Gas, EDF and SSE are being encouraged to respond to this campaign, helping those across Scotland who face the uncertainty of fuel poverty.

17:02  

Christina McKelvie (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)

I express grateful thanks to those colleagues across the Parliament who signed the motion and allowed it to be debated, because it is on an incredibly important subject.

It is not easy to define fuel poverty, because the relative costs of keeping a small flat warm compared with a big, old, draughty house are so diverse. The health and wellbeing of the people who live in the property and the household income all have a bearing on costs, alongside the unpredictable weather and the wholesale price of energy. We cannot look to the United Kingdom Government for a definition. Its definition is so complicated, with median energy, equivalised energy and after-housing-costs calculations, that our heads are left spinning and we are hopelessly confused.

However, in Scotland—fortunately—we have made it a bit simpler. The Scottish Government uses a 10 per cent measure of fuel poverty, so a household that spends more than 10 per cent of its income on adequate energy at home is in fuel poverty. That is how we define it.

In 2016, the fuel poverty rate under this Government decreased by 4.2 percentage points, which was equivalent to around 99,000 fewer households living in fuel poverty. In that year, 26.5 per cent of households, which was 649,000 households, were fuel poor, compared with 30.7 per cent, or 748,000, in the previous year. There was also a fall in the number of households living in extreme fuel poverty, from 203,000 in 2015 to 183,000 in 2016, which corresponds to a fall in the rate from 8.3 per cent to 7.5 per cent.

Age Scotland told us in the briefing that it prepared for us that pensioner and older adult households are disproportionately affected by fuel poverty. Households with children and those with disabilities are similarly disproportionately affected by it.

As I have said, we have made some progress, but we need to do much more. I am keen to hear from the minister when he sums up about what action the Government is taking. I know that some things have happened over the past wee while.

My colleague Councillor Julia Marrs, who is a Scottish National Party councillor, and I are determined to seek action from the energy retailers that offers innovative ways to help to combat fuel poverty. That came about because both of us independently did a wee shift in the local food bank a year ago to help out at Christmas time. We prepared two separate bags, one of which was for people who could cook the food and the other of which was for people who had no energy, so they needed cold food. That really struck a chord with both of us. We independently had a conversation about it and started to pursue some of the energy companies.

We feel that it is totally unacceptable to find people who are often poor and ill and people with young children shivering under blankets or eating cold food because they cannot afford power in a power-rich nation. However, we continue to make really heartening progress. Scottish Power representatives have been enthusiastic and supportive. They have shown us a real sense of corporate social responsibility in their response to our overtures and have met us on many occasions. We were able to launch the quick credit voucher scheme with them in the Hamilton and Clydesdale food banks with the help of those food banks’ fantastic volunteers to match their vulnerable clients to the scheme. I am delighted that some of those fantastic volunteers—including the amazing Isobel Graham and her supporters—are in the gallery. Councillor Marrs is, of course, here, too.

The voucher is worth £49 in winter and £30 in summer. That is not a lot to members, but it is a huge amount of money for a person who does not have any energy in their household. It does not have to be repaid, and up to three payments per household can be made in a 12-month period. That makes a huge difference to people who find themselves in extremity.

Eight agencies now run quick credit voucher schemes with Scottish Power—not just the Hamilton and Clydesdale food banks but a mix of food banks and citizens advice bureaux are involved. Some 80 families in Hamilton have been supported in the short months since October in which the scheme has been running.

Councillor Julia Marrs and I have written to the big six to explore how they could respond to the quick credit voucher scheme by taking up a similar approach for their vulnerable customers. I urge them to do so. I know that they have many schemes in place, because I have met many of those companies, but the people whom I know need the instant response that they rely on when they attend the food bank. Traditionally, those people will not open their bills or answer calls from or interact with their energy companies. In many cases, they will have been disconnected.

Most of the energy companies have responded very positively, and the meetings that we have had have been incredibly constructive. As I said, the main energy companies have schemes in place to provide help with arrears or with finding ways to use fuel more efficiently, although the sizes and scales of the schemes vary. The Scottish Gas Energy Trust is one example. It offers people grants to clear outstanding fuel debt and gives families that are in a difficult situation the chance to get back on track, debt free. In 2016, the trust provided 13,500 grants across the UK to families in fuel debt. A person does not need to be a Scottish Gas customer to benefit from that scheme.

The npower fuel bank scheme is another example. It was launched in 2015 and has helped to provide more than 85,000 people across the United Kingdom with financial support. It is similar to the quick credit voucher scheme. Like Scottish Gas, npower does not really care who supplies the fuel; it will pay the voucher. In fact, only 3 per cent of the scheme’s recipients are npower’s own customers. The npower scheme provides food bank clients who have a prepayment meter with a voucher worth £49 in winter and £30 in summer to top up their gas or electricity. That is a life-saver for some. In Glasgow alone, around 3,100 people have been helped by the scheme since it was launched, of whom around 2,200 have been adults and nearly 900 have been children. I am going to visit the Glasgow npower fuel bank next week with my trusty sidekick Councillor Julia Marrs and volunteers from the Hamilton and Clydesdale food banks.

Nobody should be freezing in the dark or unable to cook their food at this or any time of the year. I am extremely hopeful that the rest of the big six recognise the benefits of backing the quick credit voucher scheme or parallel schemes in conjunction with local food banks.

My grateful thanks go to all the energy companies. We do not often thank or praise them, but they have engaged positively, and I look forward to working with them all to make a real difference to people who need it the most. A special thanks goes to Scottish Power, which had the foresight to introduce the quick credit voucher scheme first. It is happy to share what it has with others to support the scheme’s roll-out.

However, let us get back to the real numbers: 80 families have been supported in Hamilton. I ask members to imagine how many families could have that help if the scheme were rolled out across Scotland and the United Kingdom. We cannot do much about the weather in Scotland, but no one should have to choose between a warm home and a hot meal.

The motion in my name is incredibly important. I look forward to hearing all the contributions in the debate. I also look forward to working with the energy companies. I say to them that I am coming to see them and coming next week. [Applause.]

I politely and gently ask the public in the gallery not to applaud. It is not permitted in the Parliament. I understand why they want to do so but they have to desist.

17:10  

Tom Arthur (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the debate. I not only congratulate my friend and colleague Christina McKelvie on securing it but thank her and praise her work and that of Councillor Marrs.

The quick credit voucher scheme is a fantastic initiative. I confess that I was not familiar with it until the motion came before me. Members’ business debates, like adjournment debates at Westminster, can often seem like an addition and not the primary focus of Parliament. However, the amount that one learns in them is incredible. The voucher scheme needs to be more widely known.

I put on record my recognition of the invaluable contribution that food banks make. In my constituency, there is East Renfrewshire food bank, which is based in Barrhead. Renfrewshire Foodbank, which serves many of my constituents, is based just outside the constituency. I have had the pleasure of visiting both. They do incredible work, although one must admit that we would wish that we did not have to do that work because we had a more equitable and fair society in which people did not face such circumstances.

It is important to remember the circumstances that can lead people into fuel poverty and reliance on food banks. Those circumstances are incredibly complicated and resist easy analysis, but far too many people end up in them as a result of the punitive and draconian welfare reforms that the UK Government is implementing. People have been penalised through sanctions and other measures for the smallest transgression or error. We have to bear that in mind. It is fantastic that there are initiatives such as the quick credit voucher scheme, but we must also redouble our efforts to tackle the issue at root cause, ensure that we deliver in Scotland a welfare system that puts fairness and dignity at its heart and continue to push the UK Government to deliver a more equitable scheme.

The scheme that Christina McKelvie highlights deserves the widest possible recognition. I was interested to see the range of partnership organisations that are involved. I mentioned two food banks in my constituency. There is also East Renfrewshire CAB, which is in Barrhead, and Renfrewshire CAB, which is just outside the constituency. We also have a fantastic community energy project, Local Energy Action Plan, which is based in Lochwinnoch but serves constituents throughout Renfrewshire and has tremendous potential to expand.

I look forward to learning more about the quick credit voucher scheme and about Christina McKelvie’s engagement with all our energy companies. After the debate, I will pester her to find out more and to find out how the scheme can be introduced in my constituency so that my constituents can benefit from it, too.

17:13  

Alexander Burnett (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)

I thank Christina McKelvie for bringing the debate on the quick credit voucher scheme to the chamber. I, too, support the efforts by Scottish Power and encourage other energy companies to follow its good example.

When we look at the broader picture, we see that the best way to help people who are in need of fuel assistance is to help them with better insulation and energy efficiency measures to reduce their energy bills. There is certainly more that the Scottish Government can do and I will set out those suggestions as I progress.

I draw attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests, which covers businesses that are focused on reducing fuel poverty through the use of renewables and carrying out improvements to the energy efficiency of housing.

My Scottish Conservative colleagues and I have consistently argued for better energy efficiency in Scottish homes. Our manifesto commitment is to spend 10 per cent of the capital budget on making homes energy efficient, which would involve spending £1 billion cumulatively over this parliamentary session.

In areas of my rural constituency, many older people reside in older houses and cottages that are difficult to heat efficiently. There is a strong relationship between cold temperatures and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, lower dexterity in the home, mental health issues and, increasingly, isolation.

We must acknowledge the fact that the UK Government has remained committed to capping energy prices and giving the consumer a fair deal. Recently, Ofgem announced that it has extended the safeguard tariff to almost a million vulnerable customers. I very much welcome that, on the back of the safeguard tariff that was introduced for over 4 million households on prepayment meters in April 2017, following a recommendation from the Competition and Markets Authority. I believe that such steps have gone some way towards tackling fuel poverty and alleviating the burden of hefty bills on the consumer. However, more could be done.

Changes to fuel legislation have been proposed. A further positive step that the SNP Government could take to alleviate fuel poverty has been highlighted by the Federation of Petroleum Suppliers. Many rural homes far from the gas network are reliant on using kerosene-powered central heating. However, changes to environmental legislation in Scotland have meant that small to medium-sized fuel suppliers have been hit with additional costs in licensing storage tanks. The federation has pointed out that, at a time when the Government is encouraging distributors to support customers who face fuel poverty, any additional costs will put further pressure on distributors, who will have no option but to pass on the costs to end users.

As I alluded to earlier, rural properties are often older and poorly insulated. The changes in legislation have the potential to impact severely those who already experience fuel poverty in rural areas. I seriously urge the SNP Government to look into revising those changes so that they do not become an unnecessary barrier to tackling fuel poverty and the expansion of small petroleum-supplying businesses.

In conclusion, if we properly invest in energy efficiency measures, we will see the numbers of people in fuel poverty drastically decrease. Therefore I am encouraged by the steps that have been taken by Scottish Power and I call on other companies to look into similar schemes. I also call on the Scottish Government to ensure that it is not causing unnecessary price rises in rural fuel deliveries through poorly considered legislation.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Mr Burnett, at times, your contribution was on the edges of not speaking to the motion. You dipped in and out. I warn members to speak to what is down in the motion. There was nothing about insulation and so on in the motion; it was very specific. At times, Mr Burnett, you came back on to it. I say to all members that they should be wary and should keep speaking to the motion.

17:18  

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

There are few more important issues for the people we represent than access to affordable energy, and there are few more controversial issues than the rising cost of fuel for households. Our aspiration is for every single Scot to live in a warm and secure home. Unfortunately, we are far from that goal. As Christina McKelvie said, the reality is that a quarter of households in Scotland are in fuel poverty.

Christina McKelvie, Councillor Julia Marrs and Frank Field MP have done their constituents a great service by trialling the quick credit voucher scheme that was introduced by Scottish Power in late 2017. I commend them all for what they have done, because I believe that they have blazed a trail for the rest of us. Like Tom Arthur, I too am interested to know more about how my constituents might benefit.

As members have heard, the scheme is designed to help customers who have been referred to food banks and who may also be in need of one-off assistance with their energy bills. Glasgow Central Citizens Advice Bureau is one of the agencies that are involved in running the quick credit voucher scheme, which is a lifeline for many people. I sincerely hope that all energy companies will adopt the scheme, as Christina McKelvie has urged them to do, and that all the agencies that refer people to food banks can also refer them to, and be partners in, the scheme.

Many customers struggle to pay their bills; I am sad to say that their number will increase as acute austerity continues, with no sign that the cost of living is coming down and there being real-terms pay cuts in many sectors.

The quick credit voucher scheme is only one part of the solution to a wider problem. Fuel poverty is a health issue, too. We all know that not having enough money to heat their home in winter can seriously damage a person’s health. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence says that all houses should have a minimum C rating energy performance certificate by 2025. I believe that there has to be an ambitious plan from Parliament to improve insulation and energy efficiency in thousands of homes across the country. We should take more radical steps to do that.

In my view, the big six energy companies need to be challenged further on how they deal with and support vulnerable customers. At the very minimum, vulnerable customers should be taken off the standard variable tariff and placed on a more favourable deal. I would go further and make it a mandatory requirement that energy companies write to all customers on standard variable tariffs and make it clear to them that cheaper deals are available. The Competition and Markets Authority says that those customers are paying on average £300 more than they should pay, which is a substantial amount of money. The issue needs to be tackled.

I welcome Scottish Power’s policy on disconnections as another way of supporting vulnerable customers: as long as the customer has 0.01p credit on their meter by 6 pm, they can stay on supply until 9 o’clock the following day. Scottish Power also has a scheme to ensure that repayment of debt associated with a prepayment meter now has much friendlier options than previously existed.

My central point is that more needs to be done to help vulnerable customers and people on prepayment meters because people who have to be on prepayment meters should not be penalised. It is a very sad day for our society when people are having to use food banks to survive; I know that we all long for the day when that is not the case. Now that we have fuel banks to stop people slipping into complete deprivation, at least we have a response that can make a difference.

I welcome Christina McKelvie’s motion and look forward to learning more about the quick credit voucher scheme.

17:22  

Kate Forbes (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)

This is such a fantastic debate to be having on the first day back after recess. I spent a few days over recess in Nepal, staring deprivation in the face. One can come back from such places with a real sense of hopelessness—hopelessness at worldwide chronic inequality. Although I cannot compare Scotland to Nepal, it is absolutely absurd that in a country of such prosperity, with relative stability and a strong democratic system, there are in Scotland people who face the choice of heating or eating, that the number of people using food banks and depending on them for their daily meals is going up, and that there are people who sit at home in the freezing cold, unable to pay their bills.

I heartily support the motion and back the call in it to have the initiative rolled out by other energy companies, whether E.ON, npower, British Gas, EDF Energy or SSE. It can feel in this job that we deal daily with hopeless situations, so when an MSP comes up with a tangible and workable solution that has a direct impact on real people’s lives, they deserve huge respect—which I have for Christina McKelvie.

The problem of fuel poverty is perhaps nowhere more stark than it is in the Highlands, where more than a fifth of households in the remote and rural areas are classified as being extremely fuel poor, which means that 20 per cent or more of the family’s income goes on fuel. Another 40 per cent of households are classified as fuel poor, which means that 10 per cent of their income goes on heating the home.

Although every case of fuel poverty is about a family or an individual who faces the choice of how to spend their money—whether they will spend another cold night or cold day at home—the particular situation in the Highlands and Islands is, I believe, disproportionately unacceptable. That is particularly the case when households are often within sight of energy generation—the wires that transport energy from our renewable sources in the Highlands and Islands pass their front doors, but the energy returns to them with a surcharge to be paid.

Although the debate is about praising energy companies for the scheme, I would be keen to see the Prime Minister introduce a much fairer pricing system as part of her general review of caps on energy costs.

Christina McKelvie asked us to imagine the initiative being rolled out across Scotland. That is a fantastic idea. One of the scheme’s most significant aspects is not just that it is customer led, but that it comes down to partner agencies spotting the need for assistance.

A big problem that I have seen is that very humble members of the population, particularly the elderly, are sitting at home not knowing what to do about the fact that they cannot afford the heating, but do not ask for help. The issue comes down to partner agencies seeking out and being aware of who needs help.

Christina McKelvie is very welcome to come to the Highlands and Islands, where she is, I know, already a very popular visitor. I would love to work with her and anybody else to roll out the scheme across the Highlands and Islands, which are in dire need of a tangible and workable solution, such as would be offered by the scheme.

17:26  

Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Con)

I thank Christina McKelvie for securing the debate, because fuel poverty is one of the great societal challenges that we face.

The motion mentions the action that Scottish Power is taking to help its customers. I applaud initiatives to help the most vulnerable customers, and I encourage other energy companies to do likewise.

I acknowledge that Scottish Power has in place a range of initiatives to help vulnerable customers, including a hardship fund, allowing customers to transfer their debt to cheaper suppliers and causing fewer impactful disconnects. It also supports the warm home discount scheme.

Commendable as they are, such schemes tackle neither the root causes of fuel poverty nor the frightening scale of the problem. In the past week, I have seen the impact of fuel poverty affecting some of the world’s poorest people, in Nepal. Closer to home, in the west of Scotland, the Clydebank Post ran a feature on how more must be done to help local families. I agree: politicians will have to work together if we are to achieve success.

According to Shelter Scotland, almost 1 million Scots live in fuel poverty. It is within our power to solve that problem, but the Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland notes that, with the current strategy, 10 per cent of households could still be in fuel poverty by 2040.

If we are serious about tackling the underlying causes of fuel poverty, we must step up to the challenge. A good start would be to recognise the need for action on energy efficiency—a view that is taken by dozens of organisations including Age Scotland, Barnardo’s Scotland and the existing homes alliance Scotland.

Every Opposition party is agreed that a target should be set that homes have a minimum EPC band C rating. The Scottish Conservatives want that to be accomplished for every property, where possible, by the end of the 2020s. That measure would tackle fuel poverty head on because, according to the Scottish fuel poverty strategic working group, rates of fuel poverty are lower among people who live in properties that have better energy efficiency ratings. Indeed, less than a fifth of households in bands B and C households live in fuel poverty, compared with almost three quarters of households in bands F and G properties. With that rating, heating a home would be easier and cheaper and would, according to WWF Scotland, help up to 1.5 million households. Almost 1 million Scots are in fuel poverty. That is not good enough, so we must take action to resolve the situation.

Thank you. Again, Maurice Golden was sailing a little close to the wind in terms of moving off the motion. We will let it pass for the moment, but you have been told.

17:29  

Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

I thank Christina McKelvie for bringing this important topic to the chamber and for her tireless campaigning and action on the issue.

The blight of fuel poverty cannot be eradicated by Government alone. Energy providers have an important role to play, and it is welcome and encouraging to see that Scottish Power has responded to its duty in an ethical and socially responsible manner. There can be no doubt that the quick credit voucher scheme is making a difference to people’s lives and saving individuals and families from some of the anxiety that comes from having to choose between food and fuel.

Citrus Energy, a social enterprise that is based in Ardrossan and operates in my constituency, Cunninghame South, exists to help domestic and commercial energy consumers make genuine savings on gas and electricity costs, by offering impartial advice and support. In advance of today’s debate, deputy operations manager Margaret Corrigan told me:

“Since December when we were authorised to use the scheme we have had 40 vouchers for £49 issued to clients. We have found this invaluable for our vulnerable customers”.

Mrs Rennie is one of the people who Citrus Energy was able to help through the Scottish Power voucher scheme. She suffers from pernicious anaemia and asthma. She had been working part-time, on a zero-hours contract, but she is on universal credit and her working hours had interfered with her universal credit payment. She had no money whatever for gas and electricity and she was desperate. The voucher was—in her own words—“a godsend”.

Mrs Rennie’s case highlights how benefit sanctions and universal credit are major factors in people needing to use food banks and facing fuel poverty in the first place. The damage that universal credit continues to cause is indisputable, and its roll-out should be halted immediately.

I want to talk about the importance of ensuring that energy companies engage with the widest possible range of partner agencies to deliver support to vulnerable customers. Scottish Power’s current partner agencies include food banks and citizens advice bureaux as well as community energy projects such as Citrus Energy.

Citrus Energy is authorised to administer Scottish Power’s voucher scheme. However, suppliers such as British Gas, npower and E.ON, which run various support schemes, do not currently authorise Citrus Energy to act as agents and obtain vouchers or phone and register on their customers’ behalf. Citrus Energy highlighted to me a growing issue of suppliers recognising only citizens advice bureaux in the context of fuel poverty and pointed out that not all clients in all areas can readily access CABx.

Citrus Energy has no other means of sourcing credit for non-Scottish Power customers, so it has had to negotiate with other suppliers for advance credit to allow clients to have heating and light. However, the loan is repayable by the client. In addition, energy suppliers might not advance enough credit to see the household through until the next benefit payment. What is more, suppliers often have a policy of issuing only one loan in a 12-month period—although Citrus Energy has managed to secure more credit for very vulnerable customers.

The loan approach flies in the face of what Citrus Energy is trying to achieve—to support people to get out of debt and to budget for their energy—and instead results in clients owing money just to be able to have heating and light. Therefore, the importance of ensuring that the widest possible range of organisations are authorised to administer support schemes is something to keep in mind as the campaign continues. In my constituency, I intend to look into how we can expand the provision of energy support schemes so that they are accessible to as many people as possible.

Against the backdrop of the damaging roll-out of universal credit and destructive and punitive sanctions, it is a regrettable reality that fuel poverty and reliance on food banks are everyday threats for many of my constituents. I commend Scottish Power and npower for the social responsibility that they demonstrate in their schemes and I add my voice to the calls for other companies to do the same.

17:34  

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

I am grateful to Christina McKelvie for raising this important issue and I thank all members for their speeches. I also welcome Isobel Graham and the volunteers to the public gallery; they are most welcome.

I welcome, too, the tireless work of Christina McKelvie, who, alongside Councillor Julia Marrs, gained Scottish Power’s support to pilot the quick credit voucher scheme and ensure that it was set up for her constituents in South Lanarkshire.

I also pay tribute to Frank Field, as Pauline McNeill has done, for the similar work that he has done south of the border. I know from talking to Ms McKelvie that she also has respect for the manner in which he has conducted himself on the issue.

As we have heard, the project offers those using food banks a credit voucher to help with energy costs. I am sure that members join me in thanking Ms McKelvie for her continued campaigning and will press other energy companies to follow suit.

Initiatives such as these help those on the lowest of incomes, who often have to make choices between heating and eating, as Kate Forbes and others have said. It is a positive step, but we must not forget that such schemes are necessary only because the UK Government’s punitive welfare reforms take money out of the pockets and food out of the mouths of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

No one should be hungry and cold and have to rely on emergency help. I hope that, at some point, the UK Tory Government will see sense and do a U-turn on its welfare reform austerity agenda and on the social security cuts of which we have seen far too many in recent years.

The Scottish Government’s £1 million-a-year fair food fund supports projects across the country to help us eradicate the need for food banks in Scotland. Those projects work to tackle food poverty in dignified ways that build both individual and community. The latest figures indicate recent improvements in fuel poverty levels, with almost 100,000 fewer households in fuel poverty in 2016, compared with in 2015—something that Ms McKelvie also highlighted in her speech—but we know that much more needs to be done.

This Government has a clear aspiration to eradicate fuel poverty in Scotland. Although the power to regulate energy markets rests with the UK Government, we are determined to be innovative in using the powers that we do have to target support where it is needed most. However, I wish that Mrs May and her Government would live up to their promises to cap energy prices, which, sadly, have gone by the wayside.

We are investing more in tackling fuel poverty than any other Government. Since 2008, we have helped to deliver over 1 million energy efficiency measures to over 1 million households, and we are on track to deliver our commitment to make £1 billion available for fuel poverty and energy efficiency between 2009 and the end of this session of Parliament.

It would also be useful if some of the UK Government schemes were run a little better. I am surprised that Ms Haughey is not here today, because she normally has something to say about the inadequacies of the UK Government’s green deal scheme, which has failed people right across Scotland. I hope that Conservative colleagues in the chamber will help us to get the UK Government to deal with those missold and shabby schemes so that people can go on and live in their households in the way in which they were supposed to, rather than being left with defective homes.

I can hear Mr Golden speaking from the sidelines. If he wants to intervene, I would be more than happy to take his intervention.

Is the minister not embarrassed by the Scottish Government’s track record of failure to eliminate fuel poverty?

Kevin Stewart

This Government has done much to alleviate fuel poverty in this country and we will set out our agenda further in our warm homes bill, which will be introduced shortly. Maybe the Tories should be a little bit embarrassed about the welfare reforms and the stupidities of their fuel poverty schemes, which, as I said, have actually put folk backwards in Scotland, rather than forwards. I hope that Mr Golden will talk to his colleagues south of the border and will help us get to the point of actually compensating those folks who suffered from the green deal.

We also support an impartial supplier-switching support service through a partnership between Home Energy Scotland and the social enterprise Citrus Energy. The initiative helps to simplify the switching process for those who do not have internet access or who struggle to navigate price comparison websites.

However, all of this is not solely the responsibility of the Scottish Government, particularly when we do not hold all of the powers. Energy companies have a key role in delivering a fairer Scotland. The voucher scheme that we are discussing today is encouraging, and I urge more energy companies to look at similar initiatives to help local communities. We want to work with energy companies in whatever way we can to do that.

Last month, the Government held a summit that brought energy suppliers and consumer groups together to find practical solutions. I believe passionately that such collaboration is the only way in which to drive real change. For example, as a result of the summit, suppliers have agreed to do more to assist those who are struggling to pay their energy bills, and we will work closely with them to develop a process for them to report back to Government.

We also want to make sure that good practice goes beyond the traditional big six suppliers, so best practice will be shared across the sector, and consumer groups, such as Citizens Advice Scotland, will focus on how to engage customers who need the most support to help them to switch or to avoid self-disconnection.

We continue to look at innovative ways of tackling fuel poverty in our communities, including solutions to improve the energy efficiency of homes and businesses through Scotland’s energy efficiency programme—SEEP for short.

By the middle of this century, we will have transformed the energy efficiency and heating of our buildings so that, wherever technically feasible and practical, buildings are near zero-carbon. Later this year, we will publish a route map for SEEP that will set out the steps that we will take to achieve those ambitions, including the investment to which we are committed.

We have also committed to establishing a publicly owned Scottish energy company to support our efforts to resolve fuel poverty and to help to achieve our climate change targets. We expect to provide more information on that later in the year.

In closing, I take a moment to remind everyone that we all need to work together to eradicate poverty and inequality in Scotland. We welcome more energy suppliers joining us in our efforts to tackle fuel poverty by taking forward innovative ideas and projects, and we praise volunteers in community organisations across the country who work hard to make a real difference to people’s lives.

I finish by thanking Christina McKelvie once more for securing tonight’s debate, and for maintaining momentum and focus on addressing fuel poverty in Hamilton and throughout Scotland.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

In fairness to the members whom I chastised for drifting into energy efficiency in their speeches, I have to say that the minister also did so. When we have a tightly drawn motion such as this one, it is incumbent on members, whoever they might be, to speak to the motion. I understand that the minister was, in part, responding to issues that were raised by members, but he also spoke about more that was not to do with the motion.

I say to all members that they should read the motions carefully.

Meeting closed at 17:43.