CONSULTATION on fuel duty discounts for rural mainland – covering fragile parts of the Highlands – has been relaunched following complaints a number of remote areas had been missed out.
Highland Lib Dem MP Danny Alexander, and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has announced “supplementary” work would now be carried out to look at those excluded communities.
While the move to further expand the scheme of a 5p-a-litre petrol and diesel discount has been broadly welcomed, it means the application to the European Commission for it to be implemented will not now be made until next year, causing a delay in the rebate being introduced.
SNP councillor Graham Phillips, chair of Highland Council’s transport committee, who previously argued that parts of his Sutherland constituency had been excluded in the original application, said: “The scheme was completely mucked up from the start. It was shambolic to base it on postcodes, as some areas are much larger than others, rather than on a case-to-case basis.
“But this extension is a triumph for common sense after some frank exchanges behind closed doors.”
He added: “I think it is fair to say they [the Treasury] did mess it up, but I’m in a forgiving mood and provided we get the right outcome, I don’t think it matters.
“Our trading standards department has an excellent relationship with all of the filling stations and I will make sure we contact all of them individually to see if they need advice.
“We need to make sure every station that should be eligible for this rebate is included in the application, so the fragile communities they serve see the benefit.
“The problem with the original consultation was that it was carried out at the busiest time of year for these businesses.
“Many of these petrol stations are one-man operations where the owner also operates other businesses. So the timing, as well as the procedure, was not helpful.
“Hopefully we are now on the right track to get this discount applied where it is most needed, and help those motorists in the most fragile parts of our communities.”
The extension was announced during Treasury questions in the Commons.
Answering a question about progress of the fuel rebate application to the European Commission from SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie, Mr Alexander said: “Further work is needed to ensure that we have all the information that is necessary to submit the application.
“That will be the subject of supplementary piece of work and we will submit the application early in the new year.”
Currently the discount scheme only applies to Scottish islands and the Isles of Scilly, and was introduced in March 2012.
Last month, 10 new areas were named on an application to Brussels to extend the rebate to mainland areas.
They included seven in the Highlands - Acharacle, Achnasheen, Appin, Carrbridge, Dalwhinnie, Gairloch and Strathpeffer.
However, embarrassingly, two of the locations – Achnasheen and Strathpeffer – no longer have an operating petrol station.
Also, it was pointed out that Carrbridge, which is included in the original consultation, was only 25 miles away from Inverness, where there are five supermarkets selling fuel cheaper than many other remote areas not included in the new application.
Since last month’s announcement, two further areas, Durness and Lochinver in Sutherland, were added following an intervention by north Lid-Dem MP John Thurso.
There are a further three in England - Kirkby-in-Furness in Cumbria, Hawes in North Yorkshire and Lynton in Devon.
But there was complaints about areas being missed out following an apparent mix-up at the Treasury over the size of postcode areas.
These mainly came from communities in Sutherland, Lochaber and Ross-shire, although many complaints also came from areas in Wales.
The extended consultation will now consider applications from all of these areas.