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From The Socialist newspaper, 22 July 2008

Household bills set to soar

Stop The Gas Price Rip-Off

Nationalise the energy companies

MANY PEOPLE'S minds were recently jerked away from planning their summer holidays, into a cold and wintry future. The privatised gas and energy supplier Centrica predicted that average gas bills could rise from 600 to over 1,000 in 2010 - that's an extra 8 a week.

Roger Shrives

Centrica owns British Gas and makes big profits - up 500% to 1.2 billion before tax last year. Last month, Centrica warned it would take "necessary action to deliver reasonable margins [profits - eds] in the retail business." That obviously meant more price hikes were coming and, sure enough, they are now threatening 60-70% price rises on top of last year's 15%.

But Centrica's managing director Jake Ulrich (1 million a year salary) had some advice on how to cope for those without millions in the bank - save on bills, he said and put on two sweaters instead of one!

Who does this overpaid comedian think he's talking to? People on low budgets do economise, especially in a time of recession, and they do put on extra clothing in the cold. But how many sweaters would we need, to save 60% of our gas costs?

Consumer group Energywatch estimates that around 4.4 million households already struggle to find the money to heat their homes properly. If you spend more than a tenth of your income on fuel, that's fuel poverty. The figures for that are already the highest for a decade.

Who is responsible for these price rises? Centrica and other energy giants blame the increased prices they pay for gas and oil. True, prices have soared. But these energy corporations themselves have interests in the world's oil and gas industries, so at the same time they are gaining from high wholesale prices! Npower's parent group owns and develops its own oil and gas fields, as does Centrica.

The privatised energy companies' main concern is profit. Before privatisation, MPs could have some influence on price rises and also help determine how surpluses were reinvested. Now the main question deciding how the energy industry is run is how much money its directors and top shareholders can make out of it. A recent report found about 2.3 billion of the 8 billion increase in gas prices is unaccounted for. In reality that's more of the companies' profit.

Governments used to tell us privatisation would bring lower prices, but that has been shown up as nonsense.

The trade unions should adopt the slogan "open the books", in other words, let's have a look at all their accounts! Where have all the profits gone? They are paying out huge salaries to those at the top and massive dividends too. We suspect they easily have enough money to avoid these huge, inflation-busting price rises.

If these capitalist firms claim that the money is not there or refuse to cooperate, the unions must use the anger of their own members and the general public to force even this pro-privatisation government to renationalise these industries. Such vital services should never have been placed in careless, private profit-seeking hands in the first place.

Let elected workers' representatives run the industries under democratic control, in the interests of the people who use the services and work in their production and distribution. We should fight for a socialist transformation of society so that the fuel industry runs in the people's interests, not that of the profiteers.

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In The Socialist 22 July 2008:

Stop The Gas Price Rip-Off

Car taxes add to inflation misery

Local government strike

Build further action after successful council strike

Reports of the Unsion strike

Pictures of the Unison strike

Socialist Party workplace news

Argos workers strike against insulting pay offer

London bus drivers' protest

PCS strikes

Usdaw election

Socialist Party news and analysis

Punishing the jobless for being jobless

Bankers' dirty tricks?

International socialist news and analysis

Say no to military attack on Iran

Political impasse in the Kurdish region of Iraq

Pakistan: 50,000 textile workers strike


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