The taxpayer faces a £4bn bill if a "big six" energy company goes under

5 questions answered.

Under newly proposed plans by Ed Davey the tax payer could foot the bill if one of the big six energy companies goes bust. We answer five questions on the proposed contingency plans.

What is Ed Davey proposing?

Energy Secretary Ed Davey is proposing to intervene quickly should one of the big six companies - EDF of France, E.ON and npower of Germany and Scottish Power, owned by Iberdrola of Spain, Centrica and Scottish & Southern Electric – go bust.

The "worst case scenario" plans, outlined in an Energy Department consultation paper open for comments until March 15, could result in household bills rising by between £7 and £32 a year on average over the period, equivalent to a maximum contribution of £4bn on the basis of 25.5m households in the UK, according to The Telegraph.

The provisions would enable the Government to intervene and continue to fund any company about to go bust and control the cost passed onto the consumer and maintain market sustainability. The rest of the industry would be expected to maintain supplies should this happen.

What is the likely-hood one of the big six companies could going bust?

It is not thought to be very likely that one of these companies would go bust any time soon and their commitment to the UK is not being questioned. It is thought the government is brining in these extra precautions because it does not want to have a repeat of the banking fiasco in the energy sector.

Does the government not already have provisions in place?

It does in the form of the 2011 2011 Energy Act which has already introduced a special administration regime to provide protection for the National Grid and the electricity and gas distribution networks it operates, as well as for the rail and water industries. However, Davey feels these provisions are not robust enough to cope with the mayhem that would ensue in the market if one of the big energy providers went bust.

What has the Department of Energy said?

An Energy Department official told The Telegraph: “It is extremely unlikely that any of the large energy suppliers in the UK would become insolvent. None the less, the Government believes that it is prudent to have in place a framework that will ensure the continued operation of a major supplier until its customers can be transferred to other partners.”

What do the energy companies think about these new provisions?

EDF has said it is broadly supportive of the proposals, while others are yet to comment

Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.