An independent SNP Government would cut fuel bills by around £70 a year, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister has claimed.
In her speech to members attending the party conference in Perth, Nicola Sturgeon said the costs incurred by energy firms increasing the efficiency of people’s homes passed on to consumers through their bills would be absorbed by the Scottish Government. She claimed meeting the costs through central funds would lead to a cut in costs equivalent to around 5%.
The move comes just weeks after Labour leader Ed Miliband pledged to freeze bills at his party’s conference in Brighton.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Right now, the Scottish Government invests around £80 million a year on energy efficiency schemes, while a further £120 million comes from a scheme designed in Westminster, operated through energy companies and paid for by a levy on people’s gas and electricity bills.
“It is a disjointed approach, it doesn’t take account of Scottish priorities and it’s not as efficient as it could be.
“Tackling fuel poverty is one area where we could do so much better with the powers of independence.
“In an independent Scotland, we will be able to tackle fuel poverty much more directly and ensure energy companies always behave in a socially responsible way to protect vulnerable customers.
“An SNP government in an independent Scotland will remove the cost of energy saving measures and the warm home discount from energy bills.
“We will provide funding from central government resources. This will mean direct government funding for fuel poverty schemes of at least £200 million per year.
“And this won’t just allow us to deliver our energy efficiency schemes more effectively. It will also save hard-pressed consumers money.
“We estimate it will cut energy bills by around 5% or £70 a year. Not a short-term measure but a real and lasting cut in Scottish energy bills.”
However, critics rounded on the plan. A Better Together spokesman said: “Separation would mean the loss of our EU rebate and the support for renewables investment in Scotland, which is shared by energy bill payers across Britain.
“The additional cost to the taxpayer and hard-pressed energy consumers would dwarf any supposed cut from the SNP.”
Scottish Labour’s energy spokesperson, Tom Greatrex, added: “This looks like a panicked response to Labour’s ambitious plans to reset the energy market and another referendum promise they can’t deliver.
“Rather than taking on the big energy companies, who are profiteering by ripping off Scottish families, Nicola Sturgeon has come up with a sleight of hand.
“The SNP leadership know bills would rocket by hundreds of pounds if Scotland separated off and we were left to foot the cost of funding renewables investment which is shared across Britain.”
As revealed in Friday’s Courier, Ms Sturgeon also announced an additional investment of up to £20 million to help those struggling most with the costs of the so-called “bedroom tax” in the budget for next year.
That news was welcomed by campaign groups but slammed as a “U-turn” by opposition parties.
Shelter Scotland director Graeme Brown said: “This move will buy struggling householders some time to save their home but the only long-term solution is for the UK Government to banish the ‘bedroom tax’ once and for all.”
However, Scottish Labour’s welfare spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “The SNP leadership are all over the place on the ‘bedroom tax’ as they desperately try to use it as an argument for independence when they know they could fully mitigate the impact of it in Scotland.”