By Bill Heaney

Labour MSP Mercedes Villalba wants to know what the Scottish government is doing following reports that vulnerable people faced with rising energy costs were being subjected to strong-arm and bullying tactics to force them on to prepayment meters.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon assured her that the Scottish Government is opposed to the forced installation of prepayment meters, “because that is only more likely to increase debt or leave people unable to heat their homes”.

Labour MSP Mercedes Villalba told Nicola Sturgeon people are being bullied by energy companies over installation of pre-payment meters.

She turned up the heat on Westminster, calling on the Conservatives there to provide the necessary additional support for those who are struggling with energy bills.

“And we are doing everything that we can with the powers that are available to us. That includes doubling the fuel insecurity fund to £20 million and providing an additional £1.2 million to help advice services to meet the increasing demand that they are dealing with,” Ms Sturgeon added.
She said she chaired two energy summits last year – “As a result of those, we continue to work with partners to see what more we can do by working together to support and protect Scottish consumers in these times”.

Mercedes Villalba declined to put the brakes on the matter there and told MSPs: “The oil and gas giants BP and Shell are reporting record profits on the sale of energy while millions of people are struggling to heat their homes. However, the extortion does not stop there.”

She had reports from pensioners that elderly people are currently receiving “alarming letters demanding payment from their energy suppliers”.

Ms Villalba added: “Those are payments to accounts that are not only not in arrears but in significant credit. When those vulnerable people are unable to pay what they do not even owe, they are threatened with forced installation of prepayment meters.

“Although I appreciate that much of energy policy is reserved, the First Minister meets energy providers regularly and has their ear, so will she condemn any use of such bullying and strong-arm tactics, and will she commit to ending the granting of warrants by courts in Scotland for the forced installation of prepayment meters?”

Nicola Sturgeon said she had not seen the letters that Mercedes Villalba referred to, but condemned any behaviour that seeks to bully consumers or individuals in any way.

She added: “Two issues, both of which are important, were raised in the course of that question: first, the taxation of oil and gas companies and, secondly, regulation. Both are reserved to the UK Government. I wish that that was not the case and that we had those powers here in the Scottish Parliament. Perhaps the member will, in the future, support our calls for such powers.

“As First Minister, I cannot instruct the courts; every member understands that. However, within the powers that are available to us—on energy, as the member recognises, those powers are very limited—the Parliament and the Government will and should look at what more we can do to help.”

Fiona Hyslop MSP said the strong-arm and bullying tactics did not end there.

She added: “In addition, we know, from the Parliament’s Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee’s report on energy price rises, that customers who move into properties that have expensive prepayment meters have to pay for the privilege of having them removed.

“Will the First Minister confirm whether, as was recommended in last summer’s committee report, her Government has raised with the UK Government the issue of a legal right, in appropriate circumstances, to have a prepayment meter removed free of charge?”

The First Minister said: “I absolutely agree that consumers should be entitled to have a prepayment meter removed from their home at no cost to them.

“Last autumn, the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport wrote to the UK Government on a number of issues, including protections and flexibility for consumers on prepayment meters.

“Given the recent developments surrounding such meters, I confirm that that is one of a number of issues that we will be raising urgently with both the UK Government and the regulator.”

The matter of obscene profits being made by energy companies, including Shell and Exxon Mobile, to whom West Dunbartonshire Council are paying £6 million of public money to clean up the environmental damage caused by the now deserted Esso oil terminal at Bowling, was also raised in parliament.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she thought they should be supporting the economy – “I certainly think that more could be done. The energy profit levy investment allowance does not do enough to future proof energy supplies and promote green energy. Energy companies should reinvest their profits—which, right now, are very significant—in industries of the future.

“The “Draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan”, which was published last month, sets out a clear vision to capitalise on the enormous opportunities that a net zero energy system offers the industry, our economy and our climate.

“It highlights the importance of accelerating the transition to renewable energy sources. We have clearly and repeatedly set out the actions that the United Kingdom Government should and must now take to ensure a fair and just transition for our energy sector in what will be a decisive decade for action.”

The Green MSP Mark Ruskell: said: “Despite the utterly obscene profits of oil and gas companies, investment in transition is not being made at anything like the pace that is needed to keep 1.5°C alive.

“Over the past week, I have met Shell and Exxon Mobil, which operate the Mossmorran complex in Fife—the third-largest climate polluter in Scotland. Does the First Minister agree that we cannot meet Scotland’s climate targets without slashing Mossmorran’s emissions, and will she call on the operators and the UK Government to commit to investment in a just transition plan for the Mossmorran complex?”

The First Minister replied: “First, I reiterate the Scottish Government’s commitment to a just transition that meets our climate targets, supports good green jobs for our highly skilled workforce and allows industry to retain international competitiveness. Mark Ruskell is right to say that the decarbonisation of industry plays a vital role in achieving all of that.

“Operators, including those at Mossmorran, have much to gain from being at the forefront of a just transition, and I urge them to make sure that that is exactly where they are. Currently, we are developing a just transition plan for Scotland’s largest industrial site, Grangemouth. On completion of that, we will evaluate and consider what learnings can be replicated across other sites, such as Mossmorran.”


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