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The constituency of Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch pays the highest delivery surcharges in Scotland according to new annual figures from the Scottish Parliament’s research unit.
MSP Kate Forbes has continually called on the UK Government to act and end what she has slammed as ‘rip-off charges’ for the Highlands and the latest report shows her constituency is thought to pay more than £9 million-a-year.
For the whole Highlands and Islands region, the figure is £40 million, and nationally almost £45 million.
Previously it was estimated Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch residents were paying around £6.3 million-a-year in excess charges, but this figure was calculated using a different data set by the independent researchers.
Ms Forbes said: ‘The scandal of retailers charging more than £9 million to customers in Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch has never looked like such a rip-off.
‘That means customers who purchase goods online, especially with the surge in sales during the pandemic, have paid over the odds and lined the pockets of retailers and delivery firms who think nothing of over-charging Highland consumers.
‘It is, and always has been, an absolute disgrace and it is long overdue for the UK Government to act.
‘If the Scottish Government had the powers to do something about surcharges, they would have long ago and it’s about time the UK Government lifted a finger about this.
‘More than £9 million across Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch could have been spent in the local economy and made an enormous difference.’
The total annual cost to adult population impacted by delivery surcharges by Scottish Parliament constituency, as calculated by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe), showed the cost to Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch as being £9,063,000 – a more than £500,000 increase on the second-placed constituency of Inverness and Nairn at £8,490,000.
Advice Direct Scotland, which runs Scotland’s national consumer advice service consumeradvice.scot, has an online form for people to report unfair delivery charges, with information passed on to the relevant authorities for further investigation.
Marjorie Gibson, head of operations with Advice Direct Scotland, said this latest report highlights the ‘unfair treatment’ faced by many Scots living in remote and rural areas.
She added: ‘We encourage Scots to report instances to us where they believe they have been unfairly treated and we can collate and pass on the information.
‘Too many people living in remote and rural areas find online bargains have hidden charges or small-print delivery information that can be missed when making a purchase.
‘When shopping online, always check for delivery charges first. We have been working closely with the Scottish Government and Highland Council in particular to deliver fairer deals for all online shoppers.’
Frazer Coupland, chief executive officer of Lochaber Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the new report telling the Lochaber Times: ‘It confirms what we’ve all known for a very long time, that we are unfairly penalised in the Highlands. But I was shocked at just how much more the folk of Lochaber, Skye and Badenoch have to pay for our deliveries.
‘It is vital delivery charges are reduced for our area. It’s unbelievable we’re paying an extra £9million in delivery surcharges every year. That is £9m lost to our local community and economy. We urge the UK Government to take action on this as soon as possible.’
The Federation of Small Businesses’ Highlands and Islands development manager David Richardson was a member of a working group set up by Fergus Ewing MSP to look into the matter eight or nine years ago. It published a set of principles for businesses to adopt at that time.
However, despite more work having been undertaken at Scotland and UK levels, the problem persists.
Mr Richardson told the Lochaber Times: ‘While it is unacceptable for firms to seek to profiteer from people in rural communities who have no option but to order goods online, we must recognise that greater distances and lower volumes mean it is more expensive for carriers to deliver to these locations.
‘Increased delivery costs must be borne by someone and for many smaller businesses the only options are to pass them on to consumers or not to deliver to some parts of the country at all. Sadly, many businesses have taken the latter approach and we don’t want to add to the list.
‘We urge decision-makers from across the UK to work together to investigate new solutions for this important, long-running issue.’
Kate Forbes says the situation with parcel delivery surcharges for Highland residents is an ‘absolute disgrace’.