Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Time To Get Tough With Energy Suppliers

The big six energy suppliers have got us over an oil barrel. It's time for radical action over the owners of these money-making machines who are milking customers for fat profits and shareholder's dividends. 

There will be no escape from the massive hike in gas and electricity prices set to be charged by the big suppliers. And for those on low incomes, the fuel poverty trap will hit hard. 

The government's response is to pump cash into some form of help for those caught up in the trap. But no amount of cash will be enough and the government, faced with crippling debts, can't afford it anyway. 

The big six use the Brown excuse and blame it on global this and rising world that. 

But oil and gas are traded by sharp operators on the international markets months in advance. They know how to play the markets for big profits. All the big six fix prices between themselves. 

MPs on the energy select committee and industry watchdogs are warning that with just six, the supply industry isn't competitive. And they're calling for a rethink of the whole business. 

One way is to impose a windfall tax on the obscene profits and plough that back into relief. But these are big, powerful and influential international companies.

The answer lies in ownership. EDF, NPower, British Gas, E.On, Scottish Power, Scottish and Southern Energy - all have nice sounding names but they're owned by foreign companies, international investment banks and the like. 

They need to make huge profits for their shareholders. They can't hike up prices back home in their own countries. So they make the UK consumer pay through the nose. 

Selling off the gas and electricity industries was an idea of the Thatcher years (remember Sid?). But ownership was kept in the UK.

It was left to Blair and Brown to take it forward with so much enthusiasm and stealth and allow these private companies to be sold off to foreign firms. So our elected government can keep the whole thing at arms length and do nothing about it.

The only answer is to reign them in - but that would take a dramatic change of policy. So we'll just have to shiver this winter, dread the heating blls and get deeper in debt. And you can't blame Sid for that.

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