The government rides to the rescue of the Big Six on the backs of the fuel poor

The planned cuts to the Energy Company Obligation will undermine the fight against fuel poverty.

The BBC reports today that the government is planning to cut annual costs of the Energy Company Obligation (Eco) in half as part of a package to reduce energy bills by £50. The Eco is more of a social policy than a carbon policy and is intended to tackle fuel poverty. Energy efficiency is the best long-term route to addressing rising bills since it permanently reduces energy demand. But the Prime Minister regards it as "green crap" so it is in the firing line in George Osborne's Autumn Statement.

By stretching the deadline from 2015 to 2017, and therefore halving ambition, the move means that around 40,000 homes who were entitled to free energy efficiency improvements will miss out this year and next. Equally worryingly, the Green Business Council estimates that 10,000 jobs will be lost as a result of the government's announcement. Until now, the policy had been a major driver of job creation all around the country.

The move also lets the worst performing companies off the hook. British Gas have only delivered up to 9% of the measures they were expected to carry out by March 2015 year while the best performer, E.ON, have done up to 74%. The former are being rewarded for coming bottom of the class.

This is not to say that there aren't problems with the scheme. At present, the policy is poorly targeted with only 20 per cent of measures going to those in fuel poverty. The remainder are received by low income households with relatively lower energy bills. In a major new report, IPPR proposes a new 'Help to Heat' scheme to tackle energy bills without lowering ambition on fuel poverty.

We propose a new 'house by house' approach of free assessments to determine whether households are in fuel poverty or not. Those that are would be entitled to free measures ensuring that 197,000 fuel poor homes were treated every year - up from 80,000 at present, or just 40,000 if the scheme is halved. Those that are not would receive an energy efficiency assessment - worth £120 - for free.

These households could use this information to take out a Green Deal loan and have energy efficiency measures installed. But as Newsnight highlighted last night, the government has achieved only 1 per cent of its target suggesting that, with interest rates of 8 per cent, the policy is failing. IPPR suggests using some of the Eco money to subsidise the cost of Green Deal loans turning it from a good deal to a great deal. It would cost the government just £16.7m to provide zero per cent loans for 200,000 households. These families and individuals would save £136 per year on their bills.

But all this looks like wishful thinking as the government have caved to the demands of the energy companies. Instead of improving its own policy, the government is riding to the rescue of the Big Six on the back of the fuel poor.

British Gas branding on the entrance to Leicester's Aylestone Road British Gas Centre. Photograph: Getty Images.

Will Straw was Director of Britain Stronger In Europe, the cross-party campaign to keep Britain in the European Union. 

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Theresa May missed an easy opportunity on EU citizens' rights

If the UK had made a big, open and generous offer, the diplomatic picture would be very different.

It's been seven hours and 365 days...and nothing compares to EU, at least as far as negotiations go.

First David Davis abandoned "the row of the summer" by agreeing to the EU's preferred negotiating timetable. Has Theresa May done the same in guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living here indefinitely?

Well, sort of. Although the PM has said that there have to be reciprocal arrangements for British citizens abroad, the difficulty is that because we don't have ID cards and most of our public services are paid for not out of an insurance system but out of general taxation, the issues around guaranteeing access to health, education, social security and residence are easier.

Our ability to enforce a "cut-off date" for new migrants from the European Union is also illusory, unless the government thinks it has the support in parliament and the logistical ability to roll out an ID card system by March 2019. (It doesn't.)

If you want to understand how badly the PM has managed Britain's Brexit negotiations, then the rights of the three million EU nationals living in Britain is the best place to start. The overwhelming support in the country at large for guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens, coupled with the deep unease among Conservative MPs about not doing so, meant that it was never a plausible bargaining chip. (That's before you remember that the bulk of the British diaspora in Europe lives in countries with small numbers of EU citizens living in the UK. You can't secure a good deal from Spain by upsetting the Polish government.) It just made three million people, their friends and their families nervous for a year and irritated our European partners, that's all.

If the United Kingdom had made a big, open and generous offer on citizens' rights a year ago, as Vote Leave recommended in the referendum, the diplomatic picture would be very different. (It would be better still if, again, as Vote Leave argued, we hadn't triggered Article 50, an exit mechanism designed to punish an emergent dictatorship that puts all the leverage on the EU27's side.)

As it happens, May's unforced errors in negotiations, the worsening economic picture and the tricky balancing act in the House of Commons means that Remainers can hope both for a softer exit and that they might yet convince voters that nothing compares to EU after all. (That a YouGov poll shows the number of people willing to accept EU rules in order to keep the economy going stretching to 58 per cent will only further embolden the soft Brexiteers.)

For Brexiteers, that means that if Brexit doesn't go well, they have a readymade scapegoat in the government. It means Remainers can credibly hope for a soft Brexit – or no Brexit at all. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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