A FUEL duty discount planned in rural mainland Britain – including parts of the Highlands – has been delayed following complaints some areas had been missed.
A consultation on the plan has now been relaunched and Highland Liberal Democrat MP Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, 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, the extended consultation 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, chairman 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.
“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 extension was announced during Treasury questions in the Commons.
Answering a question about progress of the fuel rebate application to the European Commission from Northern Irish Social Democratic and Labour Party 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 a 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, ten 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 application.
Since last month’s announcement, two further areas, Durness and Lochinver in Sutherland, were added following an intervention by local MP John Thurso.