Community / Council encouraged to prepare winter contingency plan as energy bills rise

A call has been made for the SIC to explore grant funding and ‘welcoming places’ to avoid people going cold

THE ORGANISER of a ‘Shetland Fuel Poverty’ Facebook group has written to the council to encourage it to prepare a contingency plan for this winter for vulnerable members of community as energy bills rise.

Stewart Douglas said “in the face of the cost-of-living crisis, increasing fuel, energy, and utility costs, coupled with the highest inflation in years, the people of Shetland face a humanitarian emergency”.

It comes as new Shetland Islands Council estimates suggest that 96 per cent of local households could be in fuel poverty come in April, with the cost of heating homes greater than on the UK mainland.

Douglas suggested in a letter to council leaders that the local authority could explore ways of covering the cost – through grants – to supply basic items like thermals and electric blankets.

He also raised the idea of ‘welcoming places’, where people who are unable to heat their home can go and spend some time in heated public buildings at no cost.

Stewart Douglas.

“These ‘welcoming places’ can also be useful in tackling hunger by providing access to food and offering general advice and assistance,” Douglas wrote.

“Several Scottish local authorities are already actively putting plans in place to set up networks of ‘welcoming places’.”

It mirrors a recent initiative from an Orkney church, which encouraged anyone to spend time in its building to get away from having to heat their home.

Douglas added: “We cannot sit back and let anyone in Shetland suffer, become ill, or ultimately die because they cannot afford to keep warm this winter. One death from this crisis would be one too many.

“Put the people of Shetland out if their misery now by letting them know they will be helped by SIC if they need it. We must find the funds and resources to ensure we can at the very least ‘heat the humans’ and ensure we have a network of ‘welcoming places’ available throughout Shetland for anyone in need.

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“If it means that other planned projects in Shetland must be postponed for a number of years to pay for this, then so be it – this is a humanitarian emergency – funds and resources for this emergency must be our number one priority.”

Following the data suggesting the sharp rise in fuel poverty expected next spring, council leader Emma Macdonald wrote to the UK Government’s chancellor to stress the need for immediate support.

She said it was clear the government will have to come with some form of financial help – “but whatever they do come with, they need recognise that might not be enough here”.

Responding to Douglas’ idea of a network of ‘welcoming places’, Macdonald said: “I suppose we already have buildings where people can come. Obviously there’s the library, there’s the hubs.


“But it is definitely something that we are looking at all we can do within our organisation to make the differences.”

She added it is “not something that we’re ignoring – we are working on that at the minute”.

The Shetland Fuel Poverty Facebook page aims to aims to “inform on related matters and to answer questions raised by the community” on the issue.

Douglas, who has competed in recent council elections, is involved in the construction industry.

A post on the page about ‘welcoming places’ saw some members of the community raise concern about draughts and dampness in council houses, as well as storage heaters.

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