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Brown's feeble fuel package
HOUSEHOLD ENERGY bills have been rising rapidly and are expected to average £1,400 next year. The 'big six' energy utilities operating in Britain put up their prices to customers by 38% this year. They also increased their shareholder's dividend payouts by 19%, shelling out £1.64 billion. That's £257 million more than the year before.
The union Unite says that since 2003, energy firms have increased their profits by 538% while raising prices by over 35% in this year alone. Many MPs and union leaders called for a windfall tax on the privatised energy companies' huge profits.
However, prime minister Gordon Brown decided not to repeat the £5 billion tax imposed in 1997 because he was desperate for these private companies to build new nuclear power stations and wind farms.
So Brown introduced an 'energy package', a 'voluntary scheme' aimed at persuading these same pirates to invest more. The package included a £1 billion cash injection into schemes to insulate homes free or half-price together with some enhancements to cold weather payments for the elderly.
The fuel giants are supposedly paying £910 million of the £1 billion insulation bill. But some industry chiefs warn that they will push up their prices and we see no reason not to believe them. They are determined that consumers, ie you and me, foot the bill.
Energy efficiency measures are needed, but the package will make little difference to most people facing huge electricity and gas bills. Brown is trying to squeeze improvements out of profit-hungry capitalist firms at a time of deepening recession.
Look at the energy chiefs' attitude towards prices and profits. Last week Mark Owen-Lloyd, head of power trading at E.ON, one of the big six energy firms, was asked what the implications were of continuing high oil and gas prices. He answered: "It will make more money for us"!
Energywatch says four million households (including 2.5 million pensioner households) already suffer from fuel poverty (ie paying more than a tenth of their income on energy bills). By 2010, 5.7 million households will be in that invidious position.
The National Pensioners Convention reckons that 20,000 pensioners could die from the cold this winter. Brown's package will do little to prevent such a catastrophe.
- No price increases. For an immediate cut in gas and electricity prices to take them back to last year's level, as a step towards affordable energy for all.
- Open the books, in other words, let workers' and consumers' representatives see the real accounts of the 'big six' and what they have done with the profits.
- A windfall tax would be useful but even better would be the renationalisation of the privatised energy utilities under democratic workers' control and management!
In The Socialist 17 September 2008:
Socialist Party editorial
Socialist Party campaigns
Labour Party conference protest
Privatisation and closure
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party review