After nearly four years as Chairman of the Scottish Fuel Poverty Forum, I stepped down in 2015. Later in the year the Scottish Government asked me to chair a short-life, independent, strategic working group tasked with developing a vision for the eradication of fuel poverty in Scotland and producing a report with recommendations for a new fuel poverty strategy. The purpose of the work was to advise Ministers and provide the basis for a wider debate.
This report contains the culmination of a year's work by the twelve members of the group who have each brought their specialist knowledge and experience to bear during that time. Details of the group are shown in appendix 1 of the report and I would like to thank each one of them most sincerely for their efforts along with the many stakeholders who have also provided input.
I would also like to single out Elizabeth Leighton for special thanks. As the working group's Policy Advisor she has certainly gone the extra mile in co-ordinating the drafting of the final report and in providing briefing and support to members on the very wide ranging subject matter covered in our investigations. I should also thank Christine McArthur of Energy Action Scotland who has provided the group with excellent administrative management.
My own sense is that now is a critical time for Scotland to improve the results of past efforts to reduce disadvantage caused through fuel poverty. As the November 2016 date for the fulfilment of current targets passes, the situation is significantly worse than when the target commitments were made fifteen years ago.
Our report provides analysis of why that situation exists and recognises the significant resources deployed by the Scottish and UK governments to improve the energy efficiency of homes in Scotland. However, we conclude that whilst fabric improvement will provide some of the answer it cannot on its own resolve the problem. Nevertheless, we recommend that future programmes have a very specific objective to deal quickly with hard to treat and other poorly performing housing stock occupied by the most financially disadvantaged.
I believe there is a significant opportunity to be seized given the ongoing commitment to eradicating fuel poverty only recently restated by the Minister for Local Government and Housing. This can be enabled given the new investment in a National Infrastructure Priority for Energy Efficiency and the new devolved powers soon to be available.
Scottish government, local government, energy companies and local communities should take advantage of the new powers, and of cross-party support for warm homes, to invest collaborative effort in mounting a renewed push on tackling fuel poverty.
Currently, the measures to reduce fuel poverty are mainly the preserve of the Better Homes Division within Scottish Government and these are embedded within a programme focussed on climate change improvement through energy efficiency measures, many of which target disadvantaged groups.
Alongside this necessary activity we seek integrated action on several other important fronts, particularly involving social work and primary healthcare within local communities, focussed on finding and responding to families and individuals who are failing to prosper due to fuel poverty. Our proposals are based on an expectation that local partnerships would take more of a lead in this regard, working with nationally funded programmes.
Our recommendations look to a cross-departmental programme which forms a mainstream part of the Scottish Government's overall approach to poverty reduction. We hope to see that embodied in statute and measured and monitored for regular parliamentary scrutiny.
I look forward to receiving the Scottish Government's response to our report.
Scottish Fuel Poverty Strategic Working Group