Danny Alexander dampens fuel rebate hopes

Fuel pump Image copyright bbc
Image caption This announcement is the latest update on the pledge to "investigate measures to help with fuel costs in remote rural areas"

Rural motorists on the British mainland hoping for a slice of the government's fuel rebate - launched this week on the Isles of Scilly and a group of Scottish Islands - probably shouldn't hold their breath.

This week's announcement is the latest update on the pledge to "investigate measures to help with fuel costs in remote rural areas, starting with pilot schemes" in the coalition's Programme for Government of May 2010.

Why, then, are these pilots - offering a five pence reduction in fuel duty - only benefiting island communities?

Well, fuel costs are certainly particularly high on islands. But that's not the only reason.

Crucially, the government needs approval from the EU to go down this road at all; and so far the EU has only ever approved this kind of scheme on islands.

Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs in the South West have made great play of the possibility of the rebate being extended to rural areas of the mainland.

The government, though, is being distinctly lukewarm on that point.

Future promise?

Launching the scheme, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, said the government's "first priority is to make sure the pilot works and the benefit is actually being passed on to customers" (something already being hotly disputed in Scotland).

When asked about the prospects of extending the scheme to the mainland he merely said: "Of course we'll look at the arguments that are made."

When pressed again on the same point he went further in pouring cold water on the idea:

Mainland motorists will be hoping his boss, George Osborne, has something more promising to offer in his red box on March 21.