A scheme to reduce the price of fuel sold on the Scottish islands could be in place by the spring, according to the MP for Orkney and Shetland.
Liberal Democrat Alistair Carmichael said he was confident, on the basis of discussions with Treasury ministers, the 5p discount on fuel would be implemented.
He said once the move was signed off by the EU Commission, it would be “full steam ahead” to get up and running in the northern Isles and Western Isles.
Yesterday, motorists at Stornoway were paying 134.9p a litre for unleaded – while those in Inverness were charged 129.9p a litre.
Mr Carmichael said: “I know that there has been some frustration locally, which I share, that the process has taken as long as it has. I understand, however, that our wait has been significantly less than was the case for France when their government applied for a similar derogation.
“We should also not forget the UK Government’s application will mean motorists in the northern isles are getting the largest derogation yet granted by the EU.”
He has been contacted by fuel retailers concerned that the scheme could cause them cash flow difficulties. Mr Carmichael said: “Treasury ministers have told me they share my view that this would be unacceptable and the scheme would be constructed to allow them to receive appropriate money up front.”
Last night, a spokesman for the Treasury refused to confirm a timescale. He said: “We are working to make it happen as quickly as possible.”
Transport chiefs welcomed the news of its imminent start, but said they were keen to examine the detail behind the scheme to ensure it does not leave retailers worse off.
Dave Duthie, director of the Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership (Hitrans), is hopeful that the trial could be rolled out to remote parts of the mainland, in particular along the west coast around Durness and Gairloch.
He said: “They made a commitment when they came in as a coalition and it’s very important that they’re bringing it forward. We would really like to see how they intend to do that to make sure the full 5p benefit is passed on to the users and that there’s no negative impact on retailers.”
Councillor Donald Manford, chairman of the Western Isles Council transport committee, said he hoped the 5p saving would not be “swallowed up” by price variations.
He added: “There’s also concern about the impending rise that’s put on duty by the government, which I would certainly urge that they don’t do.”