A LOCAL scheme to offer energy vouchers to food bank clients could be extended across Scotland after an SNP MSP called on the country’s biggest power companies to help tackle fuel poverty.

The National told last month how Christina McKelvie, the MSP for Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse, working alongside local councillor Julia Marrs, had secured support from energy giant ScottishPower piloting the project at the Hamilton District Food Bank, which has since been rolled out to Clydesdale Food Bank.

With many people forced to use food banks also at risk of fuel poverty, the scheme offers credit vouchers of £49 – up to three in a year – to help them heat their homes and cook meals.

McKelvie has now written to the chief executives of E.ON, British Gas, EDF, SSE and Npower, asking them to meet with her to discuss how the pilot is already working in practice and whether they might add their support to extending its availability across all energy providers.

“This started out as a local campaign but has the potential to change the way we support those facing the uncertainty of fuel poverty across Scotland,” said McKelvie.

“I’m delighted to already have the support from Scottish Power for the voucher scheme, and I’m really interested to see whether the other big energy providers will now come on board.

“In an ideal world we wouldn’t need such measures at all. In an energy-rich nation like Scotland we should all be able to heat our homes and cook for our families at fair and competitive rates and everyone should have the means to do that. The reality is that more and more people across Scotland are being driven into fuel poverty by the relentless austerity of the Tory government at Westminster.

“Nobody should be freezing in the dark at this time of year, and I’m extremely hopeful that the rest of the Big Six recognise the benefits of backing Quick Credit Vouchers in conjunction with local food banks.

“I look forward to further discussions with the energy sector about how they can play a responsible and supportive role in helping hard-pressed families to heat their homes across Scotland this winter and in the future.”

Isobel Graham, who manages the Hamilton District Food Bank, told The National that increasing numbers of their clients were making use of the voucher scheme.

“Our food bank is open three times a week in Hamilton and twice a week in Blantyre, and we’re seeing more people having problems with energy,” she said. “One problem is that many of our users don’t have their gas or electricity supplied by ScottishPower so can’t take advantage of the voucher scheme. In cases like that we can sit and have a cup of tea with them to discuss their needs, but we can only really offer them advice and information like phone numbers and contact points for other energy providers.”

She added: “We can also prepare a package of groceries that don’t have to be cooked or heated – such as tins of corned beef or packets of foodstuffs – that will keep them going until they can contact their electricity or gas supplier.

“We have seen a rise in the number of people coming to us in the run up to Christmas and afterwards and we believe we make a great difference to people’s lives. Obviously we would welcome any extension of the pilot scheme to include other energy companies, and this would make an even bigger difference to people’s lives.”