VAT on bills not mentioned in new campaign: Save energy, Gummer says

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NEXT WEEK the Government launches an energy-saving campaign that could help millions of households avoid higher bills when value-added tax on domestic fuel is introduced.

But John Gummer, the minister in charge of the campaign, refuses to make any connection between his promotion and beating the VAT. That, he says, would confuse his message.

The 'Helping the Earth Begins at Home' week will involve press and television advertising and the opportunity to buy energy-saving lightbulbs at half their usual price. The aim is to persuade people that they can cut fuel bills and protect the environment at the same time. As less gas and electricity is used, less global-warming carbon dioxide gas and pollutants are produced.

Many surveys have shown that the average household can readily cut its pounds 610 fuel bill by 17.5 per cent - cancelling out the rise when full VAT starts in April 1995 - in return for an investment of a few hundred pounds. VAT at 8 per cent is due to start next April.

Mr Gummer said people could start cutting bills by switching off unnecessary lights, not overfilling electric kettles and turning down thermostats by a couple of degrees. The average home could save up to pounds 40 this way.

Further measures include increasing insulation in lofts and installing draughtproofing and thermostatic valves on radiators.

The average household each year produces 7.5 tons of carbon dioxide, the most important of the man-made climate changing pollutants, through use of gas and electricity. By cutting its bills by pounds 100 a year it could also prevent a ton of carbon dioxide being emitted.

'People must decide whether there is a link between this and VAT for themselves,' Mr Gummer said. 'I'm interested in them saving money and helping the environment.'

Andrew Warren, director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, welcomed the campaign. 'But I'm not surprised Mr Gummer isn't linking it to VAT - he's hardly going to win Brownie points by spending government money on a campaign which will take away some of the Treasury's extra VAT revenue.'

The Department of the Environment, in charge of energy conservation, has been urging the Chancellor to raise the pounds 40m a year spent on draught proofing and insulating the homes of poor families and pensioners under the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme.

Mr Gummer has written to Friends of the Earth saying he favours such schemes. But at a time of tight restraint on Government spending, he may have failed to secure funds.