Page last updated at 05:40 GMT, Tuesday, 1 September 2009 06:40 UK

'Fuel, food and jobs still key'

Anne Thomson, 42, lives with her partner and children on South Uist and works as a money adviser.

Anne has been recording her spending as part of a panel monitoring the changing cost of living over the past year.


Anne Thomson

Despite the worries about jobs in the area, and concern about rising prices, we would still rate the islands as the best place to live in Scotland and a great place to raise a family.

The Road Equivalent Tarriff on ferry fares to the mainland has made a difference.

It works out as £55 return for a car and driver going North Uist to Skye, which is a fair bit cheaper than the equivalent of £71 return - which is how it used to work out using the old six-journey tickets (and without having to find the £213 outlay for the six-journey tickets!).

Since RET was introduced, the price of diesel has gone down as well and we have been to the mainland a bit more frequently. Maybe five trips in 12 months instead of three.

Everyone hopes that the RET scheme will be continued and extended to cover other routes.

Fares between the islands are not covered by RET. The hour-long crossing north to the Isle of Harris from here still costs £56 return for driver and car and worrying news has just broken that a council scheme to subsidise commercial traffic between the islands has now run out of funds.

See Anne's diary of living costs

Overall on the islands it's a relief to see the fuel prices down on last year, but we are still paying well over 10p extra on a litre compared to the mainland. This is bad news for car owners but even worse news for people who rely on oil central heating, as well as for those whose livelihoods are closely affected by the price of fuel - like fishermen, crofters and the construction firms. The 2p increase on fuel prices across the country is going to hit the islands hard.

The price of coal is up as well - we experimented over the winter eking out the coal with logs and a bit of peat, which reduced our coal bill. We also replaced two ancient storage heaters which means that in winter we don't have to have the Rayburn going like a train all day every day just to keep the house warm. The storage heating units aren't cheap either, but it gives us a bit more flexibility.

People say it's the rising cost of fuel that also puts up the price of food. Compared to last year's spending diary the meat we buy has not increased much in price, but dairy, fruit, veg, tea, sugar and processed foods seem to have increased from a few pence to over 20p per item.

As food prices have gone up, we are making the same amount of money go further

It's heart-breaking sometimes to see the price of fruit and veg and it's always a challenge to see that the family get their five a day without it costing the earth. It's good that our local school has a strict healthy eating policy. Although school lunches make a dent in our weekly budget, the kids are enjoying a healthy lunch.

Keeping a spending diary again made me realise that our shopping habits have changed too. We don't often do a big weekly shop anymore - when all sorts of extras were likely to land in the trolley - now we seem to be planning as we go along and shopping for a few day's worth of food at a time.

We keep an eye on the specials - the local Nisa and Co-op both run offers that are worth catching and we try and plan for that when we shop.

For some things we have tried down-branding - butter, ketchup, biscuits, juice - with mixed success. I think probably we are a bit stricter with quantities as well, gone are the days when the kids got free rein with the apple juice and fresh orange in the fridge!

Overall, I would say we are spending about the same on food as we were a year ago, but as food prices have gone up, we are making the same amount of money go further. The total weekly spend is down on last year because we don't get electricity by pre-payment anymore. Sadly pre-payment is still the most costly way to pay for electricity and often the only option in some households.

We both work part-time and are fortunate to have a steady income (touch wood) but not everyone in the islands is so lucky. Further north on the Isle of Lewis there has been wave after wave of redundancies in the news and unemployment is rising with few jobs vacancies to go round.

The huge concern here right now is for the future of the Qinetic-run MoD rocket range. There has been talk of redundancies for up to half of the 250 strong workforce. A sobering thought in a community where every second family seems to have someone working for the range or in some other kind of supporting employment.

There has been a clear response from community groups and the local authority who state that redundancies on that scale would be a disaster for the islands. All eyes are on the politicians now to see who can step in and prevent this from happening.



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