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31 October 2013

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.

By Caroline Flint

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.

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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