The government's Energy Statement was an Annual Excuses Statement

We have an out-of-touch Prime Minister who would rather announce endless reviews and consultations than stand up to the big energy companies.

Today’s Annual Energy Statement could not have come at a more important time. Energy prices are rising three times faster under this government than the last, bills are up by £300, and the latest price rises will add another £100 this winter. For people in fuel poverty, the gap between their bills and what they can afford is at an all-time high.  But for the companies, the mark-up between wholesale costs and the prices they charge grows ever-wider.

Soaring energy bills are contributing to a cost-of-living crisis which urgently needs tackling. Today’s Energy Statement gave the government the chance to set out what they would do to stand up for hard-working families. But what we heard today would be better described as the Annual Excuses Statement. There were excuses for why people’s bills are going up, excuses for why they’re doing nothing about it and excuses for why each and every time it happens, the government backs the big energy companies rather than standing up for consumers.

There’s a pattern emerging here. The energy companies blame social and environmental obligations for their price rises – so the Prime Minister promises to roll them back.  Threatened by Labour’s price freeze plans, the energy companies clamour for yet another review to kick the issue into the long grass – and lo and behold, the government announces a review.  

Only three weeks ago, energy Greg Barker told the BBC that idea that government levies were responsible for bill rises was "nonsense". But now, boxed in by a Prime Minister who’s not willing to stand up to the energy companies and a Chancellor who actively courts climate change deniers in his own party, the government says they’re to blame. 

As for the announcement of yet another review of the market – it’s not going to tell us anything we don’t already know. We know the market is broken. The last review by Ofgem - fully backed by the government - only concluded in June. This review is nothing more than a smokescreen, designed to disguise the fact that we have a Prime Minister who stands up for the big energy companies, rather than for ordinary families.

There was one further announcement from the government today - encouraging people to switch from one company to another. But no amount of tinkering with tariffs, telling people to shop around, or, as David Cameron suggested, wearing another jumper, will solve the real problem with Britain’s energy market. Because even the cheapest tariff in a rigged market will still not be a good deal. If people switch anything, they should switch Prime Minister, to somebody who will stand up against the energy companies.

Today’s Energy Statement gave ministers yet another chance to tell us what real action they would take to reform the energy market and help hard-pressed consumers with sky-high bills. But once again, they have shown they have no answers. We have an out-of-touch Prime Minister who would rather announce endless reviews and consultations than stand up to the big energy companies.

Consumers need real action now to tackle the soaring cost of living.  That’s why we need a Labour government to deliver Ed Miliband’s energy price freeze promise, which would save money for 27 million households. And, because the market is broken, Labour would take real action to reset it, and create a tough new regulator to stop the public being ripped off and deliver fairer prices in the future.

Families and businesses are being overcharged but we have a Prime Minister more interested in standing up for the big energy companies than standing up for consumers. We need to freeze bills and totally reset the market so it's working for consumers. And that's what a Labour government will do.

Caroline Flint is shadow energy and climate change secretary

David Cameron with Energy Secretary Ed Davey at the Clean Energy Ministerial conference in London on April 26, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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