David Cameron considers switching burden of energy bill cuts to the taxpayer
PM seeks to placate Lib Dems who oppose end of green levies
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Thursday 24 October 2013
Taxpayers may fund the cuts in energy bills promised by David Cameron as he tries to deliver his pledge to “roll back” the green taxes which add £112 to the average annual charge.
Nick Clegg warned that he would block any moves by the Conservatives to scale back the element of the green levies which help people in fuel poverty, and fund home insulation grants and renewable energy like wind power.
But he opened the door to switching part of the £2.7bn cost from gas and electricity consumers to general taxation. He believes that would be progressive because a bigger share would be borne by the better off, and many poor people who face high energy bills do not pay tax.
But Labour claimed that the move would let the “big six” energy companies off the hook and some Tory MPs warned the Government would merely be “robbing Peter to Paul”.
The energy giants came under fire after it emerged that only one of the six, E.ON, will send its most senior executive to be grilled by the Commons Energy and Climate Change Select Committee next Tuesday. The other five will send more junior figures.
Ian Lavery, a Labour member of the committee, said: “It’s a disgrace that the same energy bosses who have imposed huge price rises are refusing to defend them in front of MPs.
“The energy bosses aren’t just turning their noses up at the House of Commons, they are also turning their noses up at millions of hard-pressed consumers who do not understand why they are facing even higher energy bills this winter.”
Pressure on Mr Cameron to act increased as Scottish Power announced that its dual fuel bills will rise by 8.6 per cent, only two days after it was ordered to pay customers £8.5m following an investigation by the regulator Ofgem into its doorstep and telephone selling.
Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat Energy and Climate Change Secretary, criticised the increase and warned it would backfire as customers switched suppliers. “Companies like Scottish Power can no longer put up bills in this way with no consequences,” he said.
Although Tory ministers would prefer to rein back green levies without taxpayers picking up the bill, they may have to swallow that to secure a deal with their Coalition partners. Mr Clegg said: “I’m certainly not going to accept – I don’t think anyone would want us to accept – simply scrapping a whole system if levies, which, for instance, helps two million of the poorest households.”
He admitted the Coalition was split over green taxes but predicted it would reach agreement “about how we strike the right balance”.
Ed Miliband, whose pledge of a temporary price freeze has thrown Mr Cameron on to the defensive, said Mr Clegg’s plan would “shift the burden from ordinary [energy] bill payers to ordinary taxpayers.” Addressing the Federation of Small Businesses, Mr Miliband said: “The Government proposes a panicked wheeze paid for by taxpayers. We offer a real freeze paid for by the big energy companies.” He said annual energy bills paid by small firms have risen by an average of £10,000 since 2010.
Mark Reckless, a Tory MP, said: “I fear it may entrench those green levies in the long term by putting them on to general taxation.
“At least with electricity bills, it’s visible how much we’re getting ripped off by many of these green levies which are hugely expensive for very little reduction in carbon dioxide.
“I think putting those on to taxes is quite wrong when we’re paying enough tax already and we’re borrowing too much.”
Cold shoulder: Five bosses decline to answer MPs...
CEO, British Gas
Pay in 2012: £4.97m
Pay in 2012: €1.6m
Pay in 2012: Not disclosed
CCO, Scottish Power
Pay in 2012: £500,000+
Pay in 2012: Not disclosed
... and one who will
Pay in 2012: Not disclosed
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