The minister in charge of offering pastoral care and spiritual guidance to the UK oil and gas industry has rejected a motion by the Church of Scotland to back a windfall tax on the industry.
Gordon Craig, the UK oil and gas chaplain, said “something has to be done” for the poor and families facing huge increases in fuel bills but said he was “not at all certain a windfall tax is the answer”.
Writing to The Press and Journal from an offshore visit, Rev Craig’s statement came after the kirk joined those calling for a tax to be introduced to help tackle the “crisis of fuel poverty across the UK”.
The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, currently taking place in Edinburgh, overwhelmingly backed a motion calling for action from the UK Government amid concerns about the impact soaring bills are having on the poorest in society.
The motion, brought forward by Rev Mike Goss, was passed by 288 votes to 83.
‘Energy industries have been doing extremely well out of the current crisis’
Rev Goss, the minister of Barry Parish Church, which is linked with Carnoustie Church, Angus, spoke about the “huge scale of the money flowing into energy companies” at a time when “fuel poverty is a reality for people in our communities”.
His comments came as Jonathan Brearley, chief executive of the energy industry regulator Ofgem, warned MPs energy prices were set to rise further.
He expects the energy price cap to rise to somewhere “in the region of £2,800” in October which will add further pain to households caught up in a cost of living crisis.
Rev Goss said: “We need to recognise that our energy industries have been doing extremely well out of the current crisis, but fuel poverty is a reality for people in our communities, particularly for the poorest.
“It is clear that the huge scale of the money flowing into energy companies is far beyond what they anticipated in their plans this year and next at a time when the poorest are being hurt by the bills that they face.
“We need to square that circle and we need to do that urgently, not wait for (bills to increase in) October or next year.
“There needs to be an urgent settlement to provide care for those who will literally be choosing to heat or eat.
“A one-off windfall tax is a means of being able to redistribute these huge profits in order to address the crisis of fuel poverty across the UK.”
Oil and gas companies ‘have to manage the peaks and troughs of an unstable market’
Rev Craig, who is a minister of the Church of Scotland, admitted he “would have been surprised” if the assembly voted against the motion but argued that the industry should be able to invest the cash instead to “protect us from future fuel poverty”.
He said: “The church has always had a duty to fight for the poor in society and I would have been surprised if the General Assembly had not voted for a windfall tax to be paid by the energy companies.
“The cost of fuel has reached a critical level for so many families that I believe something has to be done.
“However I am not at all certain a windfall tax is the answer.
“This year oil and gas companies will pay 20x more tax than last year – £7.8biillion, equivalent to £279 for every household in Britain.
“Last year when demand plummeted most energy companies made multi-billion pound losses which saw many households lose their gas supplier and a tax bill of £400m from the UK offshore energy sector.
“Nobody can deny that the need for renewable energy is critical but developing renewable and clean energy requires huge investment.
“We tend to forget the UK’s oil and gas companies do not set the price of energy and they have to manage the peaks and troughs of an unstable market.
“To invest in our future energy needs they need stability in the tax rate.
“We all need them to invest to protect us from future fuel poverty.”
The UK oil and gas chaplaincy was founded in the late 198os and offers support for people of “all faiths and none”.
Rev Craig regularly visits offshore to meet the workforce and holds an annual remembrance service at the Kirk of St Nicholas in Aberdeen for those who have lost loved ones in the industry and leads the memorial service to mark the Piper Alpha disaster of 1988.
The 2022 General Assembly began on Saturday and will run until Thursday at the Assembly Hall.