A hot topic

Last week, the Energy and Climate Change Committee, of which I am a member, took evidence on the problems encountered by those trying to heat their home without access to the mains gas network.

These homes rely on more expensive fuels such as heating oil.

In addition to having to buy more expensive fuel, homes not on the gas grid tend to be older rural properties that are not so well-insulated. Often these houses are stone -walled and so more difficult to upgrade to modern insulation standards.

One of the witness sessions involved evidence from voluntary run buying groups. These local community groups co-ordinate their members’ orders for oil so that they can get a bulk discount.

The delivery company can offer a better price as they can plan an efficient route to use a full tanker to keep overheads down. I would be interested to hear of any constituents who have experience of such schemes locally.

Whilst the fundamental driver of heating price is the cost of the raw material, there have been concerns about the difficulty consumers have shopping around for a good deal. I am still pursuing the idea that the energy regulator ofgem could have a role in advising on best customer practice based on its licensing of the gas and electricity markets.

Earlier in the week, I attended the Statement by the Secretary of State for Scotland on his proposals to consult on how best to avoid a legal challenge to any referendum on Scotland leaving the UK.

It would be far better if the people of Scotland can decide our future in a debate focusing on the issues rather than getting bogged down in legal challenges.

The problem stems from the wording of the Scotland Act that established the Scottish Parliament following the last referendum. The current wording would clearly allow anyone to use the courts to challenge legislation to bring in a referendum through the Scottish Parliament.

The consultation now gives people an option to indicate how best this issue can be resolved so that the result of the referendum is clear, decisive and above legal challenge.

It certainly is important that the process is monitored by an independent body such as the Electoral Commission so that there is confidence in the result.

The ensuing debate has highlighted concerns about unnecessary delay in settling the question. Until the result of the referendum is known, it is one more uncertainty facing anyone planning future investment in Scotland.

The debate has also highlighted the need to address the issue of leaving the UK in a clearly decisive question.

Whilst procedure is important in the end, it is the consequences of a yes or no vote that need to be addressed.

One consequence of last week’s reporting was the realisation that this is a very real debate that will impact on all our futures here in Scotland.

So much of the fabric of Scotland and the rest of the UK has become intertwined over several hundred years that a lot of thought will need to be put in before unravelling that relationship.

NHS Grampian is now consulting on the future of maternity care across the North-east. I hope that all potential users of the service take an interest in how their needs can best be met.

Part of the proposal involves the closure of the Aboyne unit. Currently only one birth can be supported at a time at the unit. However, there will still be cover under the new plans for home births.

Why that support cannot be used to maintain Aboyne needs to be looked into further as the consultation takes place.