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UK Politics

Energy firms accused of Commons snub over Big Six 'grilling'

Only one is sending chief executive to appear before Energy and Climate Change Committee

The Big Six energy companies have been accused of "turning their noses up" at Parliament for refusing to send their bosses to face MPs.

Tony Cocker, the chief executive of E.ON, will appear before the Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee, but the other five firms will be represented by senior executives.

Labour committee member Ian Lavery said it was a "disgrace" that the overall bosses of the four firms which have raised prices so far will not appear in person.

Alongside E.ON, Centrica-owned British Gas, EDF, RWE npower, SSE and ScottishPower have all been summoned to appear before the committee to account for their pricing polices.

They are expected to be given a rough ride by MPs after analysis by industry regulator Ofgem showed that, while the increases announced so far this autumn by some of the companies have averaged 9.1 per cent, wholesale prices have risen by 1.7 per cent - adding just £10 to the average household bill of £600.

SSE was the first of the major energy companies to announce it was raising gas and electricity bills. Its increase of up to 10 per cent will add a typical £106 to annual dual-fuel customer charges to reach £1,380.

The company said wholesale energy prices were up 4 per cent, paying to use newly-upgraded networks by 10 per cent and Government-imposed levies up 13 per cent.

British Gas is increasing electricity bills by 10.4 per cent and gas tariffs by 8.4 per cent for around 7.8 million families this winter.

RWE npower will put up electricity and gas prices by 9.3 per cent and 11.1 per cent respectively from December 1, affecting about 3.1 million customers.

ScottishPower will raise gas tariffs by 8.5 per cent and electricity prices by 9 per cent on average from December 6 for its 2.2 million customers.

SSE is sending managing director William Morris, RWE npower its external affairs director Guy Johnson, Scottish Power will be represented by chief executive retail and generation Neil Clitheroe, and British Gas by managing director of energy Ian Peters.

EDF Energy will be represented by Martin Lawrence, its managing director - energy sourcing and customer supply.

Mr Lavery 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're 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.

"It might be half-term for the energy bosses, but ordinary working people face a winter of misery because of these greedy companies and their unjustified price hikes."

Consumer group Which? has written to George Osborne calling for him to take action to curb costs in his Autumn Statement, warning that three in 10 people do not know how they will afford to heat their homes this winter.

"People need your help - and they need it now," it has told the Chancellor.

It calls for a number of measures to be introduced to claw back cash, including separating energy generation from supply to help make the wholesale market more competitive, scrapping the carbon floor price, freezing the smart meter roll-out for two years, removing the Warm Home Discount from consumers' bills and reforming the Energy Companies Obligation, which helps people insulate their homes.

The plans could save consumers up to £1.8 billion per year, Which? estimates.

A Department of Energy and Climate Change spokeswoman said: "We welcome this contribution to the debate, and agree that stronger competition is the key to tackling energy bills.

"The Government is working hard to help people with their rising energy bills by improving competition, making the nation's homes cheaper to heat and providing targeted help for the most vulnerable.

"The Energy Company Obligation helps people to save energy and money on their bills, through prompting energy companies to green-proof their customers' homes.

"Having warmer and more energy-efficient homes, as a result of the Energy Company Obligation, will result in lower energy use, and by default lower energy bills."

Think-tank IPPR said Ofgem's data on customer bills shows that profits in 2013 are 6 per cent and operating costs make up 9 per cent of bills.