i Editor's Letter: Hand power to the Competition Commission


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The Independent Online


Call in the Competition Commission and get it over with. The domestic energy market is broken and has lost  consumers’ trust. A competition inquiry would have the powers needed to be taken seriously by the Big Six, including the sanction of breaking up energy companies, as it did with British airports.

Ofgem’s Andrew Wright, the man who runs this chocolate fireguard of an organisation – does that metaphor still work if people can’t afford to turn on the gas fire? – found his voice yesterday, in time for a scheduled appearance before Parliament.

What became clear is that the watchdog chief does understand the problem. “The question,” he correctly identified at one point, “is what we do about it.” Let me help out Mr Wright: sideline Ofgem, and hand the Competition Commission the power to investigate the Big Six.

Don’t delay. There were 31,100 excess winter deaths in England and  Wales last winter - an increase of 30  per cent on the previous year.  Next week, George Osborne may reduce bills in the short-term by getting rid of energy suppliers’ efficiency obligations. But without fundamental reform this uncompetitive market will only rebound to punish the consumer.

Ed Miliband’s energy price freeze was good politics (setting the winter political agenda) but bad policy (energy firms can easily get around it by upping prices before and after).

Meanwhile, the uncertainty over energy policy prevents us finally answering the big question: how do we power Britain for the next 50 years? The combined effect of the Coalition’s muddled energy policy and Mr Miliband’s threatened freeze is stall investment in our energy infrastructure – vital, be it renewable, fossil fuel or a mix – until the next election brings greater clarity. Something David Cameron will think about on his forthcoming trip to China.