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By Hugh Boag
The influential Scottish Affairs Committee finally travelled to Arran last week as part of its inquiry to explore the impact of rising costs of living on rural populations across Scotland.
Led by chairman Pete Wishart MP, the UK government committee spent two days gathering evidence on Arran, which it recognises has been hit hard by the cost of living crisis.
Mr Wishart, SNP, was joined by committee members, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, Dr Philppa Whitford, SNP, and Mark Menzies, Conservative.
The trip had been planned for July but the committee cancelled it, blaming parliamentary pressure for its decision.
There was criticism then that the committee had planned to hold a dinner for business leaders and community interest groups at the Auchrannie, which flew in the face of a cost of living inquiry.
That dinner went ahead last Friday night at the Douglas Hotel, where the MPs stayed, but was defended by Mr Wishart as being the best way to “maximise the use of time over a bite to eat”.
It was followed on Friday by a closed session at Brodick Hall at which members of the public put forward their views on the cost of living crisis and how it was affecting them.
Speaking to the Banner when he arrived on Arran last Thursday night, Mr Wishart, MP for Perth and North Perthshire, making his first visit to Arran, said the committee was hear to listen.
He said: “We know Arran has been badly affected by the cost of living crisis and along with Scotland’s other islands and rural communities is facing particular challenges beyond those being faced on the mainland.”
As well as higher costs of food, energy and mortgages, he said Arran and the islands had also had to cope recently with ferry disruption, the diffiulties of seasonal employment and affordable housing issues.
He said: “The ‘perfect storm’ of the cost of living is hitting Scotland, with ever-spiralling heating bills, transport costs and decline of public services. Both the UK and Scottish governments have stepped in and announced initiatives and funding to help ease the burden. Our intention for this inquiry is to explore whether the UK government’s support meets the specific and unique needs of our rural communities.
“From larger homes leaking heat, to being ‘off-grid’ with the costs of heating fuel not being covered by the Energy Price Guarantee, we need to make sure rural communities are not left behind in cost-of-living support.
“We are also looking at to what extent support packages provided by the UK government meet the needs of Scotland’s rural communities in relation to the cost of living and whether this could be better tailored.”
Mr Wishart said with the Arran event the committee had now concluded the gathering of evidence and would now put a report together and make recommendations to the UK government by the end of the year.
The 11 member Scottish Affairs Committee is a select committee of the House of Commons which examines the UK government policies which affect Scotland.
Scottish Affairs Committee chairman Pete Wishart MP in the garden of the Douglas Hotel after arriving on Arran. 01_B38wishart01_23_select_committee