Martin Hickman: Unbridled greed of Big Six cannot be tolerated in hard times

Share
Related Topics

The Big Six exert a far tighter stranglehold on energy than their counterparts in other industries with large calls on household budgets. The results of this oligopoly are over-the-top prices, confusing bills and poor customer service.

That they have become so dismal is probably not their fault: any industry dominated by so few players would be inclined towards mediocrity. The blame lies with Labour politicians and the regulator Ofgem, which was asleep on the job until 2010. For more than a decade, Tony Blair's Energy ministers shirked the hard decisions required to create a sustainable and competitive energy sector. They were content to see bills fall as finite cheap North Sea oil was sucked up and pumped into poorly insulated homes, and takeovers shrank the 20 energy firms at privatisation to six.

They failed to recommission nuclear plants or launch a vigorous campaign to insulate thermally wasteful homes leaking heat through roofs and walls.

The resulting energy crisis will be felt in homes across the UK. With the hasty running down of North Sea gas and global decline of easy-to-extract oil, bills have rocketed. Where once energy was so cheap that many people saw no need to insulate, the opposite is now true: hundreds of thousands more people are having to choose between heating and eating.

And the squeeze is likely to continue. Britain requires up to £200bn of new infrastructure this decade to keep the lights on, with Ofgem estimating bills will have to rise by up to 60 per cent by 2020 to fund it.

Since 2009, Ofgem has become tougher and there has been renewed political pressure. Even more starkly, hard times have changed the context for the companies. With rising unemployment and budgets squeezed by higher fuel prices and benefit cuts, people have become less willing to tolerate greedy businesses, and there is a growing desire to check the activities of irresponsible capitalism. The solutions – a crackdown on prices and more competition – are more likely now.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Relationship Manager

£500 - £600 per day: Orgtel: Relationship Manager, London, Banking, Accountant...

Marketing & PR Assistant - NW London

£15 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

£250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

Software Developer - Newcastle - £30,000 - £37,000 + benefits

£30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The truth about kids on holiday

Rosie Millard
 

August catch-up: Barack's phone calls, tribute to Norm and my Desert Island Discs

John Rentoul
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home