Scotland’s First Minister has called for an urgent meeting between the heads of the devolved administrations to address the cost-of-living crisis as it is predicted energy bills will hit £4,266 by the beginning of 2023.
In a letter sent on Monday, Nicola Sturgeon urged the Prime Minister to move a proposed meeting between the heads of the UK’s Governments from September to this week.
It comes as consultancy Cornwall Insight has warned energy bills will hit £4,266 for a typical household by January next year.
This is a rise of £650 for households in England, Scotland and Wales compared with its estimate just last week – predicted at £3,615.
The UK Government has rejected calls for further help on bills until a new prime minister is in place.
Many of the “levers of government” required to tackle the issue remain reserved to Westminster, the First Minister said in her letter, adding that actions taken by devolved administrations “will not be enough”.
2/ Action is needed now and a clear plan to help those in need must be developed for autumn/winter. I have therefore written to the PM seeking a 4 Nations’ Heads of Government Council meeting this week. The current Westminster paralysis can’t go on. People need help now pic.twitter.com/RyLrlmT5Rc
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) August 8, 2022
“You suggested a first meeting of the Heads of Government Council to take place in September,” the First Minister wrote.
“However, as I am sure you must recognise, the situation is fast deteriorating and many people across the UK simply cannot afford to wait until September for further action to be taken.
“I am therefore writing to seek an emergency meeting of the Heads of Government Council and propose that we, as leaders of our respective Governments, meet as soon as possible this week to discuss and agree urgent steps to help those in most need now, and also formulate a plan of action for the autumn and winter ahead.”
She added: “The current crisis requires clear, focused and determined leadership and co-operation to develop and deliver – at pace – a package of interventions to protect those most impacted.”
In her letter, the First Minister stressed that “targeted” support was necessary for the most vulnerable, while hitting out at tax cuts proposed by those vying to succeed Boris Johnson in No 10.
In response, a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said: “We recognise the pressures families across the United Kingdom are facing due to rising prices caused by global challenges.
“That’s why the UK Government is providing 689,000 households in Scotland with the £650 cost-of-living payment, £300 for all Scottish pensioners and £400 to help people with their energy bills.
“We have also provided an extra £82 million for the Scottish Government to help vulnerable families at their discretion – in addition to the significant income tax and welfare powers they already have.
“The UK Government’s spending review provided the Scottish Government with a record £41 billion annual settlement for the next three years and we will continue to work collaboratively with them.”
It came as the Government was warned by business leaders that it must have “all hands to the pump” to address the crisis ahead of the autumn.
Tony Danker, director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), joined former prime minister Gordon Brown’s call for swift intervention to address rising energy costs.
But Downing Street said Mr Johnson had no plans to introduce major new fiscal measures before the end of his premiership.
Mr Danker said: “The economic situation people and businesses are facing requires all hands to the pump this summer.
“We simply cannot afford a summer of Government inactivity while the leadership contest plays out followed by a slow start from a new prime minister and cabinet.
“The Prime Minister and Chancellor should be taking the next few weeks to grip the emerging crisis and the planning required to tackle it. This will also give their successor – whomever that may be – the very best chance of getting quickly out of the blocks.”
He added that the Prime Minister and the candidates vying to replace him – Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss – should “come together to agree a common pledge to support people and help quell fears”.
The CBI also called for top civil servants to be directed to draft options to help struggling households ahead of a new prime minister being selected.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Mr Johnson – who is back in No 10 following his holiday in Slovenia – would be speaking to Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi to ensure that support measures due to come into effect later in the year remained on track.
But the spokesman added that any further measures would be a matter for Mr Johnson’s successor once the Tory leadership contest concludes.
Mr Johnson has been urged by Mr Brown to trigger the UK Government’s emergency response committee to deal with the crisis.
Writing for the Daily Record newspaper on Monday, the former prime minister issued a plea for “urgent measures” to cover further rises in fuel bills amid “millions standing on the edge of a financial precipice”.
He urged Boris Johnson to unite with Tory leadership hopefuls Ms Truss and Mr Sunak to prepare and agree on an emergency budget – or face growing pressure to recall Parliament and force them to do so.
Elsewhere, the Liberal Democrats said October’s energy bill price cap increase should be cancelled.
Party leader Sir Ed Davey said the Government should cover the shortfall to energy suppliers to ensure they can supply customers at the current rates.
The party estimated the cost of the policy would be £36 billion and suggested the windfall tax on oil and gas company profits should be expanded to help cover it.
Sir Ed said: “This is an emergency, and the Government must step in now to save families and pensioners £1,400 by cancelling the planned rise in energy bills this October.”
The Don’t Pay group, which is demanding bills be reduced to to an affordable level, says tens of thousands of people have pledged to cancel their direct debit payments from 1 October.
However, charities have said not paying energy bills has very serious consequences for consumers, including being threatened with disconnection and damage to their credit rating.
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