Page last updated at 20:05 GMT, Wednesday, 28 May 2008 21:05 UK

MSPs rally on fuel cost concerns

Andrew Black
Political reporter, BBC Scotland news website

It was not the best attended, most-high profile debate ever staged at Holyrood.

And it concerned an issue over which the Scottish Government has no direct control.

Petrol pump nozzle
MSPs urged the UK Government to act as soon as possible

Yet, MSP after MSP contributing spoke about how the problem was killing off businesses and hitting public services in their island and rural constituencies.

Their concern was rising cost of fuel placing a strain on Scotland's local economy and what could be done about it.

The member's debate was brought by the SNP's Alasdair Allan, who said the price difference at island pumps compared to the mainland was the greatest injustice of all.

On the day Prime Minister Gordon Brown came to Aberdeen to ask industry leaders what help they would need, Mr Allan told Holyrood it was time to give remote communities discounted fuel.

He said: "This debate is not about the fevered debate taking place in the United States where fuel prices are a fraction of ours," as he told the chamber the Western Isles was one of the world's most expensive places to fill up a car.

Unless Gordon Brown can act now for his own country he will be making Alex Salmond's case for him
John Farquhar Munro
MSP for Ross, Skye and Inverness West

Mr Allan added: "It is not part of some anti-environmentalist agenda and it is not the voice of well-off people whining about the cost of running a Chelsea tractor.

"This debate is about the constituents who have contacted me - and others I'm sure - to tell me that they cannot afford to travel to work."

SNP MSP for Cunninghame North, Kenny Gibson, said the UK took the highest percentage of petrol pump prices in tax for diesel and petrol in the EU.

In Cyprus, he told MSPs, diesel was almost 25% cheaper and petrol 22% less, adding that diesel on the island of Arran was 17p higher than on the mainland: "Can that be right? I think not."

If the irony of Scotland's status as a major oil-producing nation was not lost in the parliament's chamber, it was right in the face of Shetland MSP Tavish Scott - who has the Sullom Voe oil terminal in his constituency.

The Lib Dem MSP said diesel in Shetland was 6.40 a gallon a week ago, but now one Lerwick garage was charging almost 6.50.

"It is the differential - and this is the real scandal here - between the price that we pay in Stornoway or Lerwick and the price in Ullapool or Aberdeen," he said.

"There is someone making some money out of that".

That the parliament notes that the price of diesel is now over 1.30 in the Western Isles and across Scotland's island and remote communities, making it probably the most expensive diesel in the western world; further notes that fuel costs now represent an ever increasing burden in the Western and Northern Isles, not least for businesses and fishermen, some of whom report 80% increases in diesel costs in the last two years; notes that the main company delivering fuel to the islands deposits fuel at differing costs at different ports on the west coast despite the fact that the same vessel is used; notes the irony of an oil-producing nation putting its motorists, businesses, fishermen and rural businesses in this impossible position, and finally notes the various measures that exist in parts of France, which make cuts in fuel duty in the remotest areas

Mainland MSPS told similar tales.

Tory MSP John Lamont said farmers, fishermen and hauliers in his Roxburgh and Berwickshire constituency were struggling - pointing out Jedburgh company Munro's Buses' decision to cancel several routes.

He hoped they could successfully re-tender, but added: "What worries me most is what will happen if they're not successful, or if the uncertainty around fuel prices becomes so great that routes simply become unviable and are dropped."

And John Farquhar Munro, Lib Dem MSP for Ross, Skye and Inverness West, said the cost to a local fisherman in the village of Avoch to fuel his boat last week was 22,000. This week it was 25,000.

"Unless Gordon Brown can act now for his own country he will be making Alex Salmond's case for him," he said.

Labour's Des McNulty, who represents the urban Clydebank and Milngavie area, said it was transport costs which were pushing prices up in rural areas, while his Aberdeen Central colleague Lewis Macdonald said supply and demand was a reality with which people just had to cope.

For the Scottish Government, Environment Minister Mike Russell claimed the UK Government had done nothing - claiming that if the Scottish Parliament had the powers, the SNP would get something done.

He said: "The UK Treasury is receiving 4bn more in revenue than it expected. Where is that money going?

"Is it being ploughed back into Scotland's rural communities, is it being ploughed back into the consumers of petrol? It is not."

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