More than 16,000 council taxpayers in the Highlands will benefit from a discretionary £180 payment towards the cost of rising fuel bills.
Councillors agreed to fund the scheme at today’s meeting of full council.
The payment will be made to households in receipt of means-tested council tax reduction by March 2022.
It’s expected this will benefit around 16,440 council taxpayers in Highland.
Highland has among the highest rates of fuel poverty in Scotland, despite contributing significantly to energy generation.
Councillor Craig Fraser captured the mood of the chamber when he blasted: “This is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of energy. There’s no way we should be in fuel poverty when we generate the flipping stuff.”
Councillor Ian Cockburn agreed that there’s a fundamental problem. Mr Cockburn said that the National Grid is “the wrong way around”, being situated too far away from the power source.
“We’ve got to change our whole way of thinking regarding energy in this country,” he said.
Indeed, council leader Margaret Davidson said the payment is a “sticking plaster” and the council will lobby both the UK and Scottish Governments for a fairer system. The council will also ramp up its efforts to fit better heating and insulation across its housing estate.
Mrs Davidson said sky-rocketing energy bills are of “huge importance to so many of our constituents.”
‘We’re all in the same boat’
Many members spoke emotively about the impact on constituents in their own wards.
“It’s a perfect storm that will lead to increased debt, increased poverty and a huge impact on people’s health and wellbeing,” said councillor Alasdair Christie.
Councillor Angela MacLean said fuel poverty is now so pronounced in Highland that it does not only affect people on benefits, but also the working poor. She said heat should be a basic right.
“This is not the time to be embarrassed about coming forward,” she added. “All our bills have gone up – food has gone up, heating has gone up. Nothing has come down. We are all in the same boat.”
The council agreed to fund the £180 payment using just under £1m of the Scottish Government’s Winter Support Fund and £1.961m from Council reserves.