Ed Miliband hits back at energy firms over prices plan

 

Ed Miliband: ''We've got to tackle the cost-of-living crisis''

Ed Miliband would "take action" against energy companies if they defied a Labour government by raising prices ahead of his promised freeze.

The Labour leader has pledged gas and electricity bills would not go up for 20 months if he wins the 2015 election.

It has been welcomed by consumer groups angry at price hikes over recent years, but the "big six" suppliers warned it could have serious consequences.

Energy Secretary Ed Davey, a Lib Dem, said it risked "the lights going out".

Mr Miliband told the BBC the UK had "a market that isn't working" and, as the row between Labour and the energy firms escalated, he dismissed them as "unreliable witnesses" after they claimed possible blackouts.

He has written to the big six suppliers warning that without changes, taxpayer-funded guarantees to energy firms might not be sustainable.

The plan for a freeze on household and business energy bills between June 2015 and the start of 2017 was the stand-out announcement of Mr Miliband's party conference speech on Tuesday.

'Overcharging'

The Labour leader argued firms had been "overcharging" customers for many years and millions of households would benefit from the temporary cap on prices at a time when finances were under acute pressure and many were struggling to heat their homes.

Labour says the move will save average households £120 a year and businesses £1,800.

When the lights went out - the BBC reports on California's energy blackouts in 2001

Mr Miliband insisted he wanted energy suppliers to be successful and to continue to invest in new capacity to supply the UK's long-term energy needs.

But he said "public consent" for these arrangements depended on consumers getting a fair deal and that could happen only if the energy market was totally restructured to separate firms' generating and retail operations.

'Patently absurd'

Speaking to BBC News he said: "I've written a letter to [the energy companies] this morning saying there's a crisis of confidence in the system.

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"It's time we fixed it and they can either choose to be part of the problem or part of the solution. I hope they choose to be part of the solution."

Rebutting claims that to protect their profits, suppliers would merely put their prices up ahead of Labour's freeze, Mr Miliband said he would "make sure this is a genuine freeze that works for consumers".

"If we have to take action to make sure that happens, we absolutely will."

The party has rejected suggestions the cap, which could cost energy firms £4.5bn, will endanger much-needed investment in new plants, saying suppliers should be able to absorb the cost of the freeze out of recent profits.

Responding to suggestions the policy could lead to energy blackouts, Mr Miliband accused the industry of spreading "scare stories".

Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna added the claims were "patently absurd" and "nonsense" put about by the large energy companies.

Since 2007, gas bills have risen by an average of 41% in real terms, while electricity has gone up by 20%, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Energy profits

The "big six" - British Gas, EDF, E.On, npower, Scottish Power, SSE - made total net profits of:

2009: £2.15bn

2010: £2.22bn

2011: £3.87bn

2012: £3.74bn

This has contributed to overall industry profits of £2.15bn in 2009, £2.22bn in 2010, £3.87bn in 2011 and £3.74bn in 2012.

But suppliers say prices have gone up to cover their rising environmental and social obligations and in response to commodity price rises - sums paid on wholesale markets.

Speaking at a fringe meeting on Tuesday evening, a senior British Gas executive suggested such a direct price intervention could "threaten energy security in the UK".

"If we have no ability to control what we did with the retail prices, and that (wholesale price volatility) was to happen again, it would mean we are selling products at significant amounts of a loss and that would threaten energy security in the UK," said Ian Peters.

Asked whether it could mean "the lights could go off" he replied: "I think that is a risk."

'Economic ruin'

Energy UK, the trade body representing the six largest energy firms, has described the price freeze as "superficially attractive" but suggested it could bring a halt to future infrastructure projects.

Chief executive Angela Knight said: "It will also freeze the money to build and renew power stations, freeze the jobs and livelihoods of the 600,000-plus people dependent on the energy industry and make the prospect of energy shortages a reality, pushing up the prices for everyone."

Centrica's boss warns that the plan could lead to firms' "economic ruin"

And the chairman of Centrica - British Gas's holding company - said a firm unable to control either its costs or its prices was potentially in danger of "economic ruin".

"We are all concerned about rising prices and the impact on consumers, but we also have a very real responsibility that we find supplies to make sure the lights stay on," Sir Roger Carr said.

Energy Secretary Ed Davey said: "Fixing prices in this way risks blackouts, jeopardises jobs and puts investment in clean, green technology in doubt.

"Ed Miliband made a significant contribution to tackling climate change with the 2008 Climate Change Act. But he is putting this all at risk with his ill thought through plan which will put off investors in low carbon power generation."

Asked on BBC Radio 4's Today programme whether a Labour government would step in if a firm went bust, Mr Miliband said: "That's not going to happen."

But he added: "Of course if there was a major shock, companies could make their case."

Energy regulator Ofgem, which Labour plans to replace after 2015, has suggested legislation would need to be passed to change pricing arrangements.

In his speech, Mr Miliband also promised Labour would build 200,000 new homes a year by 2020 and enfranchise 16 and 17 year olds.

 

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  • rate this
    +99

    Comment number 1346.

    I spent a fortune reducing my energy consumption, new boiler, cavity wall insulation, double glazing, double lagging loft and swapping lights for crappy low wattage variants and my energy bills still increased, it seems many of us have done likewise, therefore the energy companies sell less energy, so they now sell it at a higher cost to maintain rediculous profits

  • rate this
    +50

    Comment number 1084.

    I think it's important to point out that the UK has relatively low energy prices in comparison to the rest of Europe (reference Europe's Energy Portal, May 2013). We are lucky in that we have these low costs and a relatively mild weather, our neighbours are spending far more on fuel that we do. In Sweden it's common to spend over £500/month in heating bills over the winter.

  • rate this
    +248

    Comment number 126.

    We must not forget that Miliband was Labour Energy Minister when price rises started because of his policy of taxing energy firms to subsidise green energy plans. He had his chance when Labour had power and messed it up then and let us not forget which party/govt got us into this mess in the first place!

  • rate this
    +65

    Comment number 119.

    All I know is energy bills are soaring and coupled with the increasing price of food, people are struggling and becoming desperate. Something is going to have to give sooner or later.

  • rate this
    +150

    Comment number 117.

    This sounds great but it betrays a fundamental lack of understanding about global energy markets. Having worked in this for near enough 30 years I'm aghast at Ed's lack of grasp of reality.

    Remember...the UK energy market is already delivers amongst the lowest prices in the developed world.

    It may please his disciples but it will make the Pasty Tax look positively well thought-through!

 

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    10:50: Cameron speech
    David Cameron

    Mr Cameron pledges that those earning a yearly income of less than £12,500 will not pay income tax. He also says the Conservatives will increase the 40p income tax threshold.

     
  65.  
    10:45: Cameron speech

    David Cameron says the Conservatives aim to help people by cutting their taxes. "I am a practical, down-to-earth, common-sense Conservative."

     
  66.  
    10:43: Breaking News

    David Cameron has started his campaign speech: "What we want to achieve is greater security for everyone and every family."

     
  67.  
    10:36: Cameron speech

    David Cameron is about to speak in Bursledon, Hamsphire, where he will set out the Conservative Party's third manifesto theme, a Britain that rewards work. You can watch the speech live by clicking on the Live Coverage tab at the top of this page.

     
  68.  
    10:27: Campaign countdown
    Labour MP Mike O'Brian

    There are marginal constituencies across the UK that will signpost which way this election will go. Our Midlands political editor, Patrick Burns, is in Coleshill in Warwickshire - the second most marginal seat in Britain with a Conservative majority of just 54. Labour Parliamentary candidate Mike O'Brian says he thinks it will be a Labour-Tory fight. He says the government's planned high-speed rail route could be a major issue affecting voters.

     
  69.  
    10:14: Polling matters BBC News Channel

    Is a hung Parliament the most likely outcome of the general election?

    More from Ipsos Mori's Ben Page: "A hung Parliament seems to be the most likely outcome... It could change but in 2005 the polls in January were pretty accurate predictions of what happened in May.

    "Polls are just what people are saying now. But the ones that were done in the week of the election back in 2010 were accurate to about plus or minus 1.1% for each party, which I think you'd agree is pretty good actually."

     
  70.  
    #nofracking trending on Twitter

    @suesmee tweets: As my MP, I'd like @neil_mp to vote against Cuadrilla getting the right to drill under my home - without my permission! #nofracking

    @loobylou43 tweets: I'm really hoping my MP @andrewpercy will vote for amendment 51 to the #infrastructurebill today #nofracking

     
  71.  
    10:06: Polling matters BBC News Channel
    Ben Page

    Ben Page, head of the research company Ipsos Mori, has been talking about polls leading up to the election: "Over the last month or so effectively what you've seen is Labour maybe one point ahead of the Conservatives.

    "That is a change on a year ago and they've gradually seen their lead evaporate effectively - but they are neck and neck and nobody seems to come up with something that allows them to break free of the other. It's a war of the weak in a sense."

     
  72.  
    10:04: 100 Constituencies Matthew Price BBC News

    Two interesting comments from voters here in Thurrock. First Harris, a scrap metal dealer. "What people are worried about has changed in the last five to 10 years." That will affect their vote he believes. He's voting UKIP. Second from Linda at Slimming World. "If my dad was alive and I told him I was going to vote anybody else but Labour he'd lynch me. But now you've got so many different parties. Green party, UKIP, what-have-you." It's going to be an unpredictable election.

    The BBC's Today programme will be visiting 100 constituencies between now and polling day.

     
  73.  
    09:56: Greek election fallout

    The right-wing Independent Greeks party has agreed to form a coalition with the Syriza party - which won Sunday's election. You can find out all the latest on this developing story and its implications on the BBC's dedicated Greece live page.

     
  74.  
    Robin Brant Political Correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: re: cameron hoax call, 'blagging' has been an offence since 2000 under the Data Protection Act 1998...

     
  75.  
    09:47: Hoax calls BBC Radio 4 Today
    Jon Culshaw

    Listen as comedian Jon Culshaw relives the moment he successfully hoax called Tony Blair as he impersonated William Hague, then leader of the opposition. It follows the headline from the The Sun newspaper from a drunk man claiming to have "just made complete monkeys out of GCHQ". The caller says the country's surveillance agency, who gave him the personal mobile number of their boss, also got through to the Prime Minister David Cameron.

     
  76.  
    09:41: Breaking News Mark Lowen BBC News, Athens

    It took just an hour of talks between two party leaders for the coalition to be formed. Greece's new government will comprise the leftists Syriza and a rightwing party, Independent Greeks, also fiercely anti-bailout but far more hardline on other policies such as immigration. Alexis Tsipras will see the President later today and be asked to to form a government. He will then argue he has the democratic mandate to revoke the budget cuts and persuade Europe to write off a portion of Greek debt. It'll meet a cool reception from Brussels and Berlin. Tough negotiations lie ahead to find a compromise that prevents Greece from defaulting on its debt: something that could threaten the country's place in the Euro.

     
  77.  
    09:36: Lord Mandelson warning
    Lord Mandelson

    Labour peer Lord Mandelson is warning today that his party must plan properly for a possible coalition with the Liberal Democrats. He tells the Guardian that while an outright victory is still possible, it is not defeatism to consider the consequences of a failure to win a majority.

     
  78.  
    09:33: Your comments: Fracking

    An influential committee of MPs has called for a moratorium on fracking on the grounds that it could derail efforts to tackle climate change. Paul writes: This is absolutely correct. We need to do the right thing out of principle. The only justification for fracking is greed and short term gain. Tim comments: This group of MPs is called influential. Influential but ignorant would be closer to the mark and that's a scary combination.

    Add your views via the comments module on our news story.

     
  79.  
    09:26: NHS concerns Hugh Pym Health editor

    Looking further ahead - the really big question for all parties is how they will fund the NHS over the next five years, particularly at a time, seemingly, of continued austerity. There's also an increasing and aging population, and patients are looking for better access to new drugs.

     
  80.  
    09:21: Questions for Nick
    Nick Robinson

    Are politicians delivering what you want? The BBC's Nick Robinson will be holding a Facebook Q&A about democracy - linked to his current Radio 4 series - at 13:30 GMT.

     
  81.  
    09:17: Campaign issues

    With 101 days to go the BBC has been finding out what issue most concerns you ahead of the election. The NHS emerged as the most important issue for those surveyed, ahead of the economy and immigration.

    Stats
     
  82.  
    09:15: Digital democracy
    House of Parliament

    We have been reporting on the launch of the Speaker's Commission on Digital Democracy this morning. In addition to encouraging online voting and more public participation in debates, one of its five objectives is to "ensure that everyone can understand" what the House of Commons does by 2020. As part of this, it says parliamentary language and procedures should be "simplified".

     
  83.  
    09:10: Hoax call to No 10
    Priti Patel

    Speaking to the BBC about the hoax call made to David Cameron, Treasury minister Priti Patel says "the most important thing right now is that no sensitive information was disclosed". She also stresses there will be a "full investigation" into what happened.

     
  84.  
    09:08: 100 constituencies Matthew Price BBC News
    Colin

    If Conservatives are to see off a double challenge from both UKIP and Labour in Thurrock they'll need core voters like Colin the car dealer to stick with them. He says he wants the current economic policy to continue so he does want David Cameron back in.

    (There is more on the BBC Today programme's 100 constituencies feature at 0755)

     
  85.  
    09:00: Archive treat 100: Robin Day v George Brown Alex Hunt Politics editor, BBC News Online

    Each day from now until 7 May we'll be bringing you a classic election clip from the BBC archives. We've already selected a fair few but do feel free to suggest some via email at politics@bbc.co.uk or via Twitter @bbcpolitics. Here's the first one -

    Robin Day interviewing George Brown

    If you think it all used to be honey and roses for political interviewees here's an election night clip from 1964 as BBC host Robin Day gets on the wrong side of the deputy leader of the Labour Party, George Brown, when quizzing him on the potential nationalisation of the steel industry.

     
  86.  
    08:56: Osborne full interview BBC Radio 4 Today

    The full BBC interview with Chancellor George Osborne is now online.

    Reacting to the anti-austerity party Syriza's win in the Greek elections, Mr Osborne told Today: "If your economy has shrunk you are going to look for other answers...the things the new government has promised, it's going to be very difficult to deliver."

    On Europe he added: "The institutions of the Eurozone are not working well enough for the people of Europe...people get tired of economic failure and rising unemployment."

     
  87.  
    BBC Politics

    tweets: The 2015 general election will be unlike any other http://bbc.in/1D8M48K

     
  88.  
    08:49: Fracking concerns BBC News Channel

    Joan Walley, chairwoman of the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, has told the BBC that they want the move to shale gas to be put on hold because of environmental and safety concerns. You can read more about their report here.

    Joan Walley
     
  89.  
    @robinbrant Robin Brant, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: It's back in action, up and running, primed for daily updates. The @BBCPolitics elex countdownerer @ChrisMasonBBC

    White board
     
  90.  
    Imelda Flattery BBC News

    tweets: Alexis Tsipras expected to speak to gathered journalists shortly. #Greece

    Media scrum
     
  91.  
    08:29: Greek election fallout

    More from the BBC's interview with Yanis Varoufakis, an economist who stood for Greece's Syriza party in the elections. He says a Greek exit from the eurozone is "not on the cards", and the party is not going to go to Brussels "in a confrontational style".

     
  92.  
    BBC Radio 4 Today

    tweets: 'We will take a plan to the #eurozone to minimise this Greek debacle' #Syriza candidate Yanis Varoufakis #R4today

     
  93.  
    08:22: New role for Lord Smith
    Lord Smith

    Lord Smith of Kelvin is to take on another high-profile role, after agreeing to chair of one of Scotland's largest regeneration projects. Lord Smith, who chaired the Smith Commission on Scottish devolution, will lead Clyde Gateway on delivering the post-2014 Commonwealth Games legacy. The work focuses on regenerating Glasgow's east end. Lord Smith was chairman of the Commonwealth Games organising committee and has a number of other top roles. They include chairing Forth Ports and the Green Investment Bank. He will take up his new unpaid role as chairman of Clyde Gateway next month

     
  94.  
    08:18: Hoax call to No 10 Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    No 10 stress the PM's phone number was not given out to the hoaxer. However he was put through to the PM by the switchboard.

     
  95.  
    @BBCGen2015 BBC Generation 2015

    tweets: DEADLINE: Just 1 week for 18-24s to sign up to @BBCGen2015 to take part in BBC Election progs

     
  96.  
    @bbcnickrobinson Nick Robinson, BBC Political Editor

    tweets: The Speaker wants you to be able to join in MPs debates & vote online. Good idea? Join in my Q&A on F'book at 1.30 (read more about the online voting plans)

     
  97.  
    08:10: 100 constituencies
    Working men's club

    This will help you put a face to some of the voices in Matthew Price's pre-election package from a working men's club in Tilbury, Thurrock (see 0755). Clearly this was pre-recorded, they weren't drinking on Monday morning.

     
  98.  
    08:05: Hoax call to No 10 BBC Radio 5 live

    The Surveillance Camera Commissioner for England and Wales Tony Porter has told 5 Live Breakfast that the hoax calls to GCHQ and Downing Street were a "concern" and it "doesn't reassure the public and the community". He also said "there'll be a lot of work to eradicate [it]".

     
  99.  
    Andy Burnham Shadow health secretary

    tweets: Warning from @nhsconfed & @LGAcomms about crisis in NHS & care. Labour's 10 year-plan, out tomorrow, offers solution> http://bit.ly/1wxprWw

     
  100.  
    @RobbieGibb

    tweets: On today's #bbcdp - @DouglasCarswell (UKIP), @spelmanc (Con), Andy Slaughter (Lab) and @MartinChelt (Lib Dem)

     

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