Minister pledges to fight for 5p-a-litre cut to fuel in rural areas
The Government is "determined" to win EU approval for a 5p-a-litre cut to fuel for motorists in rural areas, a senior minister has said.
Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, told MPs he is "keen" for the petrol and diesel discount scheme being piloted in the Isles of Scilly and Scottish islands to be extended to people living in other remote areas who also face huge fuel bills.
The discount scheme was launched on the islands earlier this year in recognition of the high cost of petrol and diesel and the lack of public transport.
Such schemes are classed as state aid by the EU, however, and so require approval by Brussels. So far, fuel discounts have only been approved for small island communities around Europe.
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The Government said in last week's autumn statement that it will "consider ways" to move forward with a discount for rural parts of the British mainland.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Alexander – whose Scottish constituency includes the ski resort of Aviemore – made clear his determination to push ahead with the plan.
"As a Highland MP, I know the burden that fuel costs can place on people in remote areas," he said. "That is why we are piloting the fuel rebate scheme for motorists on the Scottish islands and the Isles of Scilly.
"I am keen to push for EU approval for an extension of the scheme to other remote parts of the country that display similar characteristics. Of course that will be a long and difficult job, but I am determined to gather evidence to support the case."
Mr Alexander said the Government was now working with councils in rural areas to gather the evidence needed to justify the discount – but warned it could be a lengthy process.
"To win the argument at European level for an extension of the scheme, we must pass the same test and provide the same evidence to justify including such remote areas," he said.
"We are working with local authorities in various parts of the country to gather evidence to support our case.
"We must take that evidence to the European Commission. If it approves our proposal, it must in turn be approved by all 27 EU member states. There are a number of hurdles and a significant process to engage in to gather evidence."
North Cornwall Liberal Democrat MP Dan Rogerson, who also raised the issue in the Commons, said: "Making petrol and diesel cheaper is the right thing to do in areas like ours to make it easier for people to be able to access job or educational opportunities further afield. It is encouraging to know that the coalition Government are looking into how this could be done under EU competition rules.
"Over the coming weeks and months I will be keeping up the campaign to get a fair deal for local people and businesses when it comes to the price of fuel."
Petrol prices this year hit an all-time high as the cost of unleaded headed towards £100 to fill up a family car.
An islands-only cut, which works through fuel retailers having to pass on full saving of the rebate on petrol and diesel to customers, has operated in Greece and Portugal.
But there is no precedent for a mainland state-funded discount.