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UK Government holding public to ransom with inaction on cost of living – Swinney

The Scottish Government has hit out at the UK Government for holding the nation to ‘ransom’ over soaring energy bills (PA)
The Scottish Government has hit out at the UK Government for holding the nation to ‘ransom’ over soaring energy bills (PA)

The UK Government’s inaction on the cost-of-living crisis is holding the country to ransom, the Deputy First Minister has said.

John Swinney has urged UK ministers to take urgent action to ease the strain on businesses and individuals as energy prices continue to rise.

It comes as Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi announced plans to present measures, such as expanding the current windfall tax, to the next prime minister – who will be chosen next month.

Mr Zahawi and Prime Minister Boris Johnson met energy firms on Thursday to discuss what more can be done in the face of rising prices.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government agreed on Thursday to hold an emergency budget review in response to the crisis.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon chaired the country’s Resilience Committee to discuss urgent measures to mitigate rising prices.

Scottish Budget 2022-23
Deputy First Minister John Swinney has criticised the UK Government’s inaction on the cost-of-living crisis (Jeff J Mitchell/PA)

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Friday, Mr Swinney – who is standing in as Finance Secretary while Kate Forbes is on maternity leave – said difficult decisions will have to be made, including redistributing funds from the budget to help ease the burden.

He urged the UK Government to also take immediate action, including liaising with energy firms to cut costs.

He said: “We cannot be held to ransom by the fact the Conservative Party is playing out its internal challenges and conflicts.

“The country needs emphatic and decisive leadership on the question of energy. The energy market is broken and the UK Government is doing nothing.”

He said Scottish ministers speak with energy companies regularly but cannot negotiate price reductions as the matter is reserved to the UK Government.

Mr Swinney said a farmer in his Perthshire constituency has seen his annual energy bill increase from £50,000 to £200,000.

The minister said: “Unless we have the UK Government intervening in the energy market, we are going to have businesses facing unsustainability and the likelihood of unemployment rising, which of course will add to the burdens on the public.

“We talk to the large energy companies on a regular basis and we will be doing that as part of our engagement with the measures the Scottish Government’s resilience team agreed yesterday.

“But the regulation of the energy market, any specific measures to try and change the price issues that have been faced by businesses or individuals must come from the United Kingdom Government.

“It cannot by law come from the Scottish Government.”

Boris Johnson has come under fire in recent weeks for refusing to introduce urgent cost-of-living support.

A spokesperson for the outgoing Prime Minister said it is for Mr Johnson’s successor to introduce new measures.

A Treasury spokesperson said: “We know that rising prices caused by global challenges are affecting how far people’s incomes go, which is why we have continually taken action to help households by phasing in £37 billion worth of support throughout the year, which includes specific support to help people through the difficult winter ahead.

“Eight million of the most vulnerable households will see £1,200 extra support, provided in instalments across the year, and everyone will receive £400 over the winter to help with energy bills. That’s including a record fuel duty cut and a National Insurance cut worth up to £330 a year for the typical employee.”