Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy has denied that he ever suggested a pilot scheme to alter tax rates to provide lower cost fuel for residents of the Argyll and Bute islands.
Last Monday’s Press and Journal reported him as having promised to introduce a project there, which caused anger in the Northern Isles and Western Isles.
The story was reported in last week’s Shetland Times. We asked the minister for a comment but none was forthcoming. Only this week, after the issue was raised by isles MP Alistair Carmichael in the House of Commons, did he respond.
In a letter, published in this week’s Shetland Times, he says that he made clear during a visit to the Western Isles that the UK government had no plans for a scheme of differential duties for fuel.
“The government’s position on this issue has not changed. The idea that my comments constituted a formal announcement of a plan to pilot a scheme in Argyll and Bute or indeed anywhere in Scotland is a misrepresentation,” the letter says.
The intervention came after news that the government had no plans for a pilot study emerged in a parliamentary answer to Mr Carmichael from Mr Murphy’s junior ministerial colleague Ann McKechin.
Asked by Mr Carmichael what steps the Scotland Office had taken to identify suitable locations for the pilot scheme and when it would start, she said: “The government have no plans to introduce such a scheme.”
She went on: “While the government recognise the impact of higher fuel prices on those living in island communities in Scotland and in other rural areas across the UK, such prices are set by fuel producers and suppliers as a result of their commercial judgements, driven by market forces.
“[Office of Fair Trading] reports have repeatedly shown that markets are functioning properly in rural areas such as north west Scotland and the Scottish islands, but any evidence of anti-competitive behaviour on the part of fuel sellers can of course be brought to their attention.”
A furious Mr Carmichael immediately hit out at Mr Murphy and Ms McKechin for “playing politics with the livelihoods of Northern Isles families and businesses”.
For full story and letter, see Friday’s Shetland Times.