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Eilidh Whiteford, MP for Banff & Buchan

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WHITEFORD SPEAKS OUT ON FUEL DUTY

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Banff & Buchan MP Eilidh Whiteford has spoken out against the punitive levels of fuel duty levied on petrol and diesel at the pumps by the UK Treasury.

The SNP MP was speaking during a debate in the House of Commons which had been secured by the Scottish National Party which asked the UK Government for immediate action to bring down the cost of fuel. The SNP put forward proposals for a fuel duty stabilisers, which had been supported before the last election by the Tories and Liberal Democrats, but has not been delivered.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Eilidh Whiteford said:

“I have listened with great interest to this afternoon's debate. I intend to limit my remarks to aspects of it that relate most to the area that I represent. That part of rural Aberdeenshire and Banffshire has no railway stations and very limited public transport options-there are far fewer bus services than hon. Members will find in urban areas. This is therefore an urgent issue not just for individuals, but for businesses in remote and rural areas, and I am glad that Members on both sides of the House take it seriously.

“It almost goes without saying that people who live in the more remote and rural parts of Scotland, Wales and other parts of the UK have to travel further to access the most basic amenities, whether post offices, shops, schools, places of work or doctor's surgeries. Inevitably, they incur extra costs in doing so, yet as other hon. Members have pointed out, people in rural and remote areas pay higher prices. In parts of my constituency, they pay £1.36 per litre for fuel. That might not be quite as high a price as is paid in some of the island communities, but it is nevertheless well above the average.

“There is a huge irony in this situation for people in my constituency, who have had an oil terminal on their doorstep for many years. People who live at the heart of Europe's oil and gas industry pay among the highest prices for petrol and diesel in Europe. That irony is certainly not wasted on folk in my part of the world. Nearly 62% of what we pay at the pumps goes directly in tax and duty to the Treasury. My concern-this is the chief point that I want to make this evening-is that that is a disproportionate tax on people who live and work in rural and remote areas.

“We have heard a lot this afternoon about the need for the Treasury to balance its books, and about the role of tax in that, but the fundamental underlying question is: why should people have to pay more and disproportionate tax just because they do not have access to public transport or happen to live in a rural area? I am all for tax, so long as it is fair, proportionately applied, and people are not discriminated against for living and working in a rural area.

“The impact is felt particularly by businesses. As other Members have said, goods and services have to be moved into and out of parts of rural Scotland by road, and in many areas we already have to overcome significant challenges arising from our distance from markets. The area I represent has strong food processing, farming and fishing sectors and a great deal of manufacturing, but companies in northern Scotland have to cover the extra costs they incur and the extra taxes they pay, but nobody else has to, in order to make viable business plans. We have come through difficult times but are still struggling to emerge from the recession, and the fluctuating price of oil causes great instability and uncertainty for business. Big and small businesses alike struggle with that. Big businesses can sometimes buy fuel while in greater debt, but small businesses, which are often the greater engine of growth in our communities, really struggle with the unpredictability caused by fluctuating prices.

“In conclusion, I urge the Government to honour their commitments before the election. I cannot over-emphasise the urgency and immediacy of this issue in rural Scotland. I urge them to consider the matter seriously. We have heard a lot about the derogation. I hope that not just island communities will be included in that, but that, notwithstanding the difficulties, other rural and remote parts will be included too. I also hope that much more attention will be given to the stabiliser, which, ultimately, will create fairness in the system and proportionality in the taxation on fuel.”

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