Isles representatives call for urgent government settlement of THAW funding issues

Isles representatives Alistair Carmichael MP and Liam McArthur MSP have spoken out today to call for an urgent resolution of regulatory issues preventing the continuation of funding for fuel poverty organisation THAW Orkney, following a letter to the Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, by Mr Carmichael. The Orkney parliamentarians have been in correspondence and meetings with THAW Orkney, the British Gas Energy Trust (BGET) which is its primary funder, and government ministers regarding barriers to a continued funding settlement.

BGET has been unable to commit to funding for THAW beyond the next few months due to an ongoing dispute between the Scottish and UK governments about the future administration of the Warm Home Discount, which has delayed the setting of necessary regulations by the UK parliament.

Commenting on the letter, Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael said:

“These are challenging enough times for people in fuel poverty as it is without piling uncertainty on top. That THAW’s funding has been put in doubt for so long is unacceptable, both for local people who rely on their help and advice and indeed for the dedicated staff at THAW themselves who have been caught in the middle.

“It is frustrating that these disputes – whether through stubbornness or brinksmanship – between our governments are getting in the way of the basic functioning of a vital local organisation. There are legitimate discussions that can be had about how these wider schemes operate in Scotland in the long term but that should not get in the way of THAW’s remit in Orkney here and now.”

Orkney MSP, Liam McArthur added:

“In the midst of a cost of energy crisis, it is utterly reckless that THAW's future is in jeopardy due to a disagreement between UK and Scottish governments over how funding is allocated.

“It is all the more astonishing given Orkney has some of the highest levels of fuel poverty in the country. THAW has provided an invaluable service to many local households, including some of the most vulnerable in our community.

“This risk to its funding could scarcely come at a worse time. While the UK and Scottish Governments continue to debate the future structure of the scheme, UK Ministers must urgently bring forward legislation to allow this crucial funding to be continued for at least another year.”

Full text of letter below:

Dear Kwasi

I write regarding the status of the British Gas Energy Trust (BGET) in Scotland, which funds vital organisations mitigating fuel poverty issues around the country including in my constituency.

You are no doubt aware that British Gas Energy Trust, incorporating the Scottish Gas Energy Trust, is an independent charitable trust funded solely by donations from British Gas, with a remit to support efforts to tackle fuel poverty through advice and financial support. Within this remit it supports THAW Orkney, in my constituency, to advise and assist local people who are suffering fuel poverty.

Following meetings and correspondence with THAW Orkney and BGET alongside my colleague Liam McArthur MSP, I am led to understand that BGET’s support for THAW Orkney will expire on 1 April of this year due to the ending of BGET’s current programme of funding in Scotland. There is no replacement funding in place due to ongoing negotiations between the UK and Scottish governments over future administration and targeting of the Warm Home Discount scheme.  While additional funding has been found to allow THAW to continue to be supported to June this year, thereafter the situation remains entirely unclear and deeply troubling.

This is creating considerable uncertainty for THAW Orkney, its staff and those in the community that THAW supports, many of whom are very vulnerable. THAW staff have been informed that they will be made redundant unless the funding situation is resolved. While I recognise that there are legitimate discussions to be held on the future running of the scheme, I believe that it is counterproductive for such discussions to delay and possibly disrupt the funding of vital fuel poverty support organisations.  The hiatus created by the current negotiations would cause difficulties at the best of times. In the midst of an energy and cost of living crisis, however, the threat posed to THAW and similar organisations funded by BGET to deliver advice and support to those in fuel poverty and extreme fuel poverty could scarcely come at a worse time.

While I would strongly urge both governments to come to an early settlement on the Warm Home Discount scheme, in the meantime it is vital that fuel poverty funding is not held hostage to that agreement. At this late stage, and given the work that still needs to be done to reach agreement of the structure of future schemes, it is imperative that provision is made to allow for at least a ‘rollover’ of the current scheme for a further 12 months. For this to happen, happen, the necessary Statutory Instruments will need to be laid at Westminster at the earliest opportunity. If necessary I would be happy to meet with you to discuss the issue further at your earliest convenience but would impress upon you again the urgency in finding a resolution.

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