AS an MSP or MP, one way in which you can measure the importance of a topic is by the volume of email it produces.

Some issues that dominate the headlines get no public reaction at all. Others result in a tidal wave of concern, such as the present cost of living crisis and in particular the soaring price of electricity and gas. Little else matters at present to those who are facing a long, hard and possibly poverty-stricken winter.

Some of the personal stories, my former colleagues tell me, are difficult to read. One individual sent an itemised list of her expenses for a week, revealing she had precisely 1p left before she met her already high electricity bill and purchased any food for herself.

Some people talk desperately about suicide while many simply feel they have to say something not just about their own individual worries but also about the obscenity of the sky rocketing profits being posted by energy companies.

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Those profits typify all that is wrong with the current state of the UK, which seems sunk in a farrago of selfishness and greed. The two Tory leadership contenders are bookends to that display, with Liz Truss in particular mouthing nonsense about leaving it all to the very same market forces that have caused the problem.

Meanwhile Boris Johnson, though still being paid and pampered as Prime Minister, is neither use nor ornament, refusing to act while, apparently, investigating ways to secure his own financial future.

Nobody is going to be unaffected by these pressures – but some will be able to cope with them with less difficulty than others.

The most vulnerable will, as ever, suffer most and they will also be worst affected by aspects of this situation that have so far not been much publicised, chief among which will be the effect on community and local provision.

I have written before in this column about the renewal of localism which took place during the lockdown, particularly in rural areas. This was eroded a little as people began to travel more again but village and community halls and local authority services remain a much-valued and well-utilised resource.

However, across Scotland as annual electricity contracts fall due for renewal, communities are receiving shocking news. The domestic price cap does not apply to community facilities so prices over the last year of around 16p a unit, falling to 13p at non-peak times, are being hiked dramatically. Some unit prices have already gone up to 40p and a cost of between 60-70p per unit is now being quoted for longer-term arrangements.

Standing charges will also shoot up, going from about £120 a year (still a lot for very basic provision) to £400 or more. Annual bills in even the smallest of facilities will rise from a few hundred pounds to several thousand.

The users of these halls are normally very local groups providing everything from badminton to bingo. They will have little or no resources or reserves and if what they pay for a couple of hours once a week has to rise in line with the electricity cost they will be forced to pass that on to those they serve. Many of them will already be under financial pressure so events that do a lot to tackle social isolation – and sometimes mental health problems – will simply stop happening.

It’s little wonder that staff in a variety of services, including local authorities, are trying to secure wage increases that will at least make a small contribution to mitigating rapidly rising prices. However, councils will also feel the pinch from the energy price increase, even if they have been able to negotiate favourable deals in the past.

Making ends meet in local government finance will become even more difficult and the strenuous efforts of the Scottish Government to try and help are not being matched by a UK Government pledged to ignore Scotland and those elected to speak for it.

The outcome will be to decrease the ability of all parts of the local system to help as the crisis bites.

We will all witness a vicious circle of declining services and higher charges undermining every attempt to help those who need such help the most.

Much of the energy price problem is the result of the unstable international situation, but not all of it. The UK economy is already damaged by Brexit and less resilient than those of our European neighbours.

In addition, the Brexit lurch to the right in the UK militates against the type of solutions that are being considered elsewhere.

Legal pressure on the energy companies to prioritise customers, the threat of nationalisation and the speeding up of the essential transition to greener renewable energy are axiomatic answers to the current issues but are being treated by the Tories as if they were imposed by Bolsheviks with snow on their boots.

The price cap doesn’t apply to community facilities, which often have few backup reserves

Scotland is an energy-rich country but we have nothing to show for it because energy policy is set at Westminster and the energy tax take goes there.

Nonetheless, the First Minister is bringing practical assistance to bear in every way open to the Scottish Government and her assessment of what the UK must do is accurate and urgent – although I would add to the list she published on Thursday a community and local authority energy price cap, matching the one that has to be put in place for small and medium sized enterprises.

Scotland also needs to go further by ensuring that, when responsibility for energy is returned to our independent Parliament, we are well down the road of devising an energy policy that includes a right to energy at a fair price whilst curtailing the unaccountable spivs and speculators who seem to dominate this and all the other sectors of our national life in which they and their Tory chums think they can make a quick buck.