Soaring bills spark protest call

Oban dad Murdo MacKenzie, whose fuel bills are doubling,  says it is time for a public show of protest. KG_T09_MurdoMacKenzie

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Soaring energy bills and the cost of living crisis has triggered a call for action in Oban.

Oban dad Murdo MacKenzie, whose fuel bills are doubling, says it is time for a public show of protest.

‘This is absolutely ridiculous, ours is more than doubling. This is going to plunge a lot of people into poverty and push a lot of folk over the edge.

‘This government does not care one jot about its citizens, it’s time we took to the streets,’ he said.

In just hours, the mechanic’s Facebook post attracted 68 comments and more than 140 likes from others feeling the pinch.

Across the UK, thousands of people have taken to the streets calling for government intervention as the cost crisis grows, worsened by a record inflation high and National Insurance increase.

Others have already openly taken to social media describing price hikes as ‘brutal’, making references to already ‘scraping by’ because of ‘extortionate’ bills. One woman said she was already experiencing palpitations at the thought of getting her next fuel bill.

‘Oban has to do something. We can’t just take it lying down. We’re going to organise a rally in the town centre soon. Lots of people have said they will support it,’ said Murdo, who is also writing to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, MP Brendan O’Hara and MSP Jenni Minto to see if they can help.

He has also set up an online petition for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s attention at https://www.change.org/p/boris-johnson-government-to-intervene-on-crazy-energy-price-hikes

Dad-of-two Murdo lives in a new-build home in Benderloch with cheaper air-sourced heating. His fuel bill is rising from £1,714 a year to an estimated £3,485.

‘I’m not alone. Lots of people will see their bills doubled. It’s crazy. People are sending me their figures, one woman told me her daily standing charge for electricity is going up from 26p to 51p. It is scary what’s going to happen to people.’

Argyll Wellbeing Hub’s service co-ordinator Des Macmillan said this is just the start and worries over energy hikes and cost of living are definitely weighing on people’s minds.

He says bigger bills will be a huge factor in piling on even more stress and added anxiety for people, affecting mental health.

‘We’re already hearing and having those kinds of conversations. People are talking about having to make serious changes to try and make ends. That’s hard, especially when people are struggling on tight budgets already.

‘People are talking about having to make choices, substitute things or just go without. Wee treats for themselves or family will be the first to go. The money just won’t be there to spend on extras that are often so important for wellbeing and can make such a big difference to how people feel.

‘Instead, the money will have to go on electricity. I’ve noticed this myself. I can see it causing a lot more stress and added anxiety,’ said Mr MacMillan.

Householders are now discovering the stark reality of rising energy bills, as emails from suppliers reveal how much more they will pay from April, when the regulator Ofgem lifts the price cap by more than 50 per cent, due to the soaring global wholesale price of gas.

It means average energy bills in Argyll and Bute could reach £3,186, more than 60 per cent higher than the UK average of £1,971.

This month Holyrood Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, outlined plans to give 73 per cent of Scottish households (those in council tax bands A to D and those eligible for council tax reduction) a £150 payment, with a further £10million to be targeted at people struggling with fuel bills.

The UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak also announced a ‘rebate and clawback’ scheme, which gives all households a one-off £200 discount off their energy bills in October – but then it must be paid back by £40 a year over the next five years.

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil, who says his Western Isles constituency ‘suffers the worst levels of extreme fuel poverty in Scotland’, called on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to increase support to struggling households.

‘The Treasury’s response to the energy price cap rise falls woefully short of what is needed,’ he said. ‘Scotland is an energy-rich country and the UK has failed to invest in renewables for a long time, and we are now at the mercy of gas prices.’

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine means a further bill shock in winter is likely.

Highlands and Islands Tory MSP Donald Cameron urged the Scottish Government to reverse its policy of scrapping Scotland’s oil and gas industry.

‘We are still dependent on oil and gas for some time to come, while we transition to net zero,’ he said. ‘If we scrap domestic production, we will have to import energy at a time when prices are going through the roof and availability is dictated by the whims of people like Vladimir Putin.’

Help can be found at www.citizensadvice.org.uk and at www.homeenergyscotland.org