UK Government officials have been ordered to draw up new plans to cut energy bills for hard-pressed families in the north and north-east.
Chief Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander has told civil servants at Westminster that he wants to see detailed measures put forward to help ease the cost of living in the region.
The intervention by the MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey follows the launch of a Press and Journal campaign for fair energy prices last month.
We revealed consumers across the north and north-east have been paying hundreds of pounds extra for power each year because of a 2p-per-unit surcharge which has been backed by regulators.
Politicians and fuel campaigners have branded it a “post code lottery” which is pushing people in rural communities into poverty.
But in an exclusive interview with the Press and Journal, Mr Alexander revealed he was taking action.
Asked about geographic variations in the price of power, he said: “I think there’s a broader issue and that is about the cost of energy that people in the north of Scotland face.
“That has a number of features. Obviously with electricity prices, you’ve got the issue that you referred to, but also on the other hand you’ve got the hydro benefits scheme.
“You’ve got a lot of people who use heating oil to heat their home and that is very expensive. You’ve got a very old housing stock that isn’t very well insulated, and that means costs are higher.
“So at the moment in government I am looking at all of those things.”
Mr Alexander refused to be drawn on specific details of the proposals, but insisted he was taking concerns seriously.
“I’m not going to say now what the right answer is, because I’m getting people to look at it. But it is really important,” he said.
“We’ve done a lot in terms of freezing fuel duty, discounting it for the islands, we’ve made some changes recently on how the costs of energy generation in Shetland are shared across the UK, rather than across the Highlands.
“We’ve taken a number of steps in government – promoting renewable energy, which is creating a number of jobs in the north of Scotland – to help with energy costs and energy investment in the north of Scotland.
“But I want to make sure we look at these things really hard to see what we can do.”
The Press and Journal has been highlighting concerns about electricity prices in recent weeks.
The intervention has already prompted power giant SSE, which levies the 2p surcharge in the north and north-east, to write to UK Government ministers calling for a flat, national rate.
SNP MSP Kevin Stewart has called for devolution of energy market regulation amid criticism of the way the issue has been handled by the UK regulator Ofgem.
The Aberdeen Central representative said last night: “Danny Alexander doesn’t need to just look at it, he needs to take action.
“He has been in government for nearly five years, represents a north of Scotland seat, and he should not sand idly by and watch his constituents and my constituents be fleeced.”