JOHN Thurso MP has confirmed to the NT that Durness and Lochinver WILL be included in government proposals to cut 5p a litre off fuel prices at remote petrol stations.
He told us that in a conversation with the treasury chief secretary on Wednesday evening, fellow Lib-Dem Danny Alexander had assured him that the two areas would be added to the 10 announced last week.
And it is likely that Kinlochbervie could also be eligible but data is currently being checked.
Further details are also being sought from petrol pump owners in Scourie and Tongue.
It could mean that within the next few weeks, those three areas could also be added to the Treasury’s list.
However, what is most worrying about the initial decision is that north west Sutherland may have been excluded because civil servants based in London did not understand the geography of the area.
It is understood that one of the problems that Treasury officials faced was that the remote classifications across the UK came under post codes, which could be a few square miles in the south, or even Strathpeffer (IV15).
But the IV27 postcode covers from Tongue, west to Durness, Kinlochbervie, Scourie and Lochinver east to Lairg and almost as far as Bonar Bridge, and meant that only one petrol pump operator needed to be selling fuel below Island prices for the whole area to be ineligible.
Apparently, civil servants could not believe that one post code area could be more than the size of an English county!
When the areas were announced last week, there was an outcry of incredulity in the north that the most remote corner of Britain was not among the 10 which the government had proposed to put forward, under a strict criteria.
The three elements are:
n Pump prices must be the same as, or higher, than the pre-reduction prices on the islands which were included in the first pilot scheme to reduce prices.
n The pumps must be 100 miles from the nearest refinery.
n The area must be sparsely populated.
North west Sutherland easily met the last two criteria, but John Thurso was initially told by Mr Alexander that it did not meet the first.
The Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP told us: “I knew Durness and I was pretty sure that their prices were higher than the Islands. I immediately contacted Mackay’s in Durness and they told me they certainly were — by about 3p or 4p on petrol and maybe as much as 8p or 9p on diesel, depending on comparative months.
“Current prices are £1.45 for unleaded and £1.55 for diesel.”
Lord Thurso said that his office spent most of this week confirming prices and passing the figures on to the Treasury.
“I am happy to say that the Treasury finally agreed and this is now great news.
“Having spent a decade being fobbed off by the previous government, I am delighted that we have got some action from this one.
“And I am very pleased that this will make life a little easier for people in north and west Sutherland.”
Sutherland’s Highland Council representatives had all taken steps this week to take up the fight to have Sutherland included.
In his column in today’s NT (see P19), Jim McGillivray had even suggested that 20p needed to be discounted.
On hearing of Mr Alexander’s U-turn, Graham Phillips told us: “Of course we will all welcome this tacit acceptance that Sutherland should have been included in the first place.
“But I won’t be satisfied until all of the county is covered. We agreed yesterday to gather whatever additional information is required, as soon as possible, and I’m delighted that the Federation of Small Business has agreed to help in that.”
Linda Munro said: “To leave Tongue, Scourie and KLB out of the subsidy for further examination is a poor show but to then leave Bettyhill not to be considered at all is farcical.
“I will be seeking the support of the Highland Lib Dem group to lobby both Danny and John Thurso.”
And Deirdre Mackay said: "This scrabbling about at the last minute makes the LibDem MPs look ridiculous.
"What confidence can we have that this legislation has been properly thought through when Achnasheen and Dalwhinnie, included in the proposal, have no filling station, and Strathpeffer which can hardly be described as remote and rural.
"Only a few days ago Danny Alexander stated that to add any additional areas would compromise the bid to Europe but now we see Durness and Lochinver at the last minute with a possibility that Tongue and Scourie might also be added.
"This smacks of the same ill thought out approach applied by the same MPs to the Bedroom Tax where careful research and analysis would have shown the policy to be unworkable and simply unfair. Information on prices, filling stations and distances are readily available on a Smartphone App, it’s not rocket science.
"What this will produce is a 3 tier pricing structure when what we require is a system which is equitable for all of Sutherland and indeed all rural areas."
The government proposals for a cut in the 12 areas have still to be approved by the European Commission.