Letter from Edinburgh

I’m composing these words on Tuesday afternoon before heading out to Up-Helly-A’ with squad number 18.

As Guizer Jarl John Hunter said in the Lerwick Town Hall this week, the festival is a great leveller. I’m led to understand that a leading Lerwick businessman, dressed some­what implausibly as a cat, was stuffed into a wheelie bin on 11 separate occasions by his squad. The indignity!

Whatever you do in life makes no difference to the spirit of a squad determined both to have a great night and to enjoy each other’s company. It’s 24 hours away from the nonsense of politics, which is especially welcome as the Scottish Parliament is in the throes of debating a budget. That’s never a cheerful subject. But, as my luck would have it, the first stage always coincides with Up-Helly-A’ in Lerwick. Long may that continue.

On Tuesday too, the Office of Fair Trading announced a full- scale investigation into what they describe as the energy supply to off-grid customers. In the quiet of the after­noon, before heading back across to Lerwick to collect a torch for the pro­cession with the squad, I contacted the OFT to ask what this means for Shetland.

Would it cover the enormous rise in heating oil? I have had a lot of people in touch worried by this aspect of ever rising oil prices. Many elderly folk have had new heating systems through various govern­ment-assisted schemes over the past few years. These have often been based on an oil-fired boiler. The finances of this choice looked reasonable when a tank full of domestic heating oil was around £300. Well that’s obviously not the case now.

So when the OFT came back to me on Tuesday with a resounding “yes”, then that is undoubtedly good news. Their work will include an assessment of “how well competition provides choice for consumers at a local and regional level”. That should be pretty straightforward to answer in Shetland.

Anyone who wants to comment on precisely what the OFT should investigate is to submit ideas by the end of February. I can’t think of too many issues that are more important to Shetland so I want to ensure the council and other bodies make strong submissions. We should use this study to assist those who face real challenges keeping their homes warm.

One word of warning – big oil business and distribution companies employ highly-paid lawyers to make sure studies like these go nowhere. That can’t be allowed to happen. Some pretty staggering profits are being made somewhere. But people trying to keep their homes warm are paying huge amounts. That’s what has to be challenged by this work.

Tavish Scott MSP


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