David Cameron with Energy Secretary Ed Davey at the Clean Energy Ministerial conference in London. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Cameron has let the energy companies pocket his £50 bill cut

By failing to ensure companies pass on the full reduction, the PM has allowed them to boost profits at the expense of the consumer.

David Cameron’s timidity has left millions of customers with higher bills after his supposed £50 cut was exposed as a sham. Today’s figures show that his trademark complacency has let four of the six large suppliers by-pass the supposed £50 cut he trumpeted in December - meaning many of the Big Six have pocketed the benefit from Cameron’s changes to green levies, rather than passing it on to the consumer.And with 400,000 people without help to heat their homes as a result of government cancelling energy efficiency measures, it is the hardest pressed of customers that are hit.

Last December, at the time of Cameron and his hapless Lib Dem sidekick Ed Davey’s announcement, Labour warned that it would be at the discretion of the energy companies to pass on these reductions. We warned that the government’s plan did nothing to challenge the spiralling profits at the Big Six and we warned that they might seek to pocket some of the benefit, reducing the average £110 increase in bills by less than Cameron’s headline "£50" (meaning his cut was still a rise of at least £60 for consumers). And now it turns out they have.

Four of the Big Six will pass on just a fraction of the £50 cut in their costs. E.On, EDF, Npower and Scottish Power have all indicated that customers on fixed price deals will see just a £12 reduction in their bills. A total of 3.7 million customers are estimated to miss out on over £140m of savings.

By failing to pass on the full reduction, Cameron has helped the energy companies to boost profits at the expense of the consumer. Once again, he has been caught out standing up for the privileged few, aided and abetted by a hapless Lib Dem Secretary of State whose boast that "consumers are the ones who are winning" seems, at best, ill-judged.

Time and again, the big energy suppliers and their trade body claim to be sorry for their past behaviour, say that they have learnt lessons, proclaim that they want their customers to trust them, and that they are committed to working for fairness and transparency in the energy market. Yet today’s exposure shows that if they can find a way around a half-hearted government announcement, some of them will. It is this attitude that has caused the crisis of customer confidence in the energy sector – and it is a crisis that the government are either unwilling or (as demonstrated today) unable to address.

The UK energy market is in clear need of urgent reform, to make it clear, fair and transparent for the future. Only Labour has proposed to break up the Big Six, make their trading more transparent and scrap the discredited regulator Ofgem. Meanwhile, our price freeze for a fixed, defined and specific period of 20 months will protect consumers whilst we push through these vital reforms, saving the average household £120.

Tom Greatrex is shadow energy minister and Labour MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West

Photo: Getty
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Sooner or later, a British university is going to go bankrupt

Theresa May's anti-immigration policies will have a big impact - and no-one is talking about it. 

The most effective way to regenerate somewhere? Build a university there. Of all the bits of the public sector, they have the most beneficial local effects – they create, near-instantly, a constellation of jobs, both directly and indirectly.

Don’t forget that the housing crisis in England’s great cities is the jobs crisis everywhere else: universities not only attract students but create graduate employment, both through directly working for the university or servicing its students and staff.

In the United Kingdom, when you look at the renaissance of England’s cities from the 1990s to the present day, universities are often unnoticed and uncelebrated but they are always at the heart of the picture.

And crucial to their funding: the high fees of overseas students. Thanks to the dominance of Oxford and Cambridge in television and film, the wide spread of English around the world, and the soft power of the BBC, particularly the World Service,  an education at a British university is highly prized around of the world. Add to that the fact that higher education is something that Britain does well and the conditions for financially secure development of regional centres of growth and jobs – supposedly the tentpole of Theresa May’s agenda – are all in place.

But at the Home Office, May did more to stop the flow of foreign students into higher education in Britain than any other minister since the Second World War. Under May, that department did its utmost to reduce the number of overseas students, despite opposition both from BIS, then responsible for higher education, and the Treasury, then supremely powerful under the leadership of George Osborne.

That’s the hidden story in today’s Office of National Statistics figures showing a drop in the number of international students. Even small falls in the number of international students has big repercussions for student funding. Take the University of Hull – one in six students are international students. But remove their contribution in fees and the University’s finances would instantly go from deficit into debt. At Imperial, international students make up a third of the student population – but contribute 56 per cent of student fee income.

Bluntly – if May continues to reduce student numbers, the end result is going to be a university going bust, with massive knock-on effects, not only for research enterprise but for the local economies of the surrounding area.

And that’s the trajectory under David Cameron, when the Home Office’s instincts faced strong countervailing pressure from a powerful Treasury and a department for Business, Innovation and Skills that for most of his premiership hosted a vocal Liberal Democrat who needed to be mollified. There’s every reason to believe that the Cameron-era trajectory will accelerate, rather than decline, now that May is at the Treasury, the new department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy doesn’t even have responsibility for higher education anymore. (That’s back at the Department for Education, where the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, is a May loyalist.)

We talk about the pressures in the NHS or in care, and those, too, are warning lights in the British state. But watch out too, for a university that needs to be bailed out before long. 

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