Mary Dejevsky: OK minister, I'll switch if you do

Notebook

Share
Related Topics

Little has recently annoyed me more than Chris Huhne's response to the news that Scottish Power was imposing swingeing price rises. Asked where customers were left, faced with a 10 per cent increase for electricity and a massive 19 per cent increase for gas, the Energy Secretary said airily that they didn't have to take the increases lying down. "If any energy company hits you with a price increase, you can hit them back where it hurts – by shopping around and voting with your feet."

Oh yes? Let's look at this a bit more closely. The same reports that gave details of Scottish Power's move forecast that it was only a matter of time, and not a lot of it, before the other five major energy companies would follow suit. So let's say you are a Scottish Power customer and your reflex, on hearing the worst, was immediately to search the internet for a lower price. And let's also say – miracle of miracles – that you actually managed to switch your supplier overnight. Lo and behold, within a matter of days, your new company whacks you with their increase. Are you better off or not?

The "big six" supply almost all Britain's domestic energy. They are not charities. One moves, they all move. How often do you find significantly different prices at the petrol pumps these days? Thought not. That's what happens with the supposedly competing energy companies. Scottish Power blames the increases on much higher wholesale prices as a result of the weak dollar, unrest in the Middle East and growing demand from countries like India and China. It would be amazing if these pressures did not apply across the board.

The energy regulator Ofgem recently expressed concern about competition in the UK consumer energy market, promising that it would force companies to prune their 350 or so different tariffs to make it easier for rates to be compared. Do you want to bet? Even with 50 slightly different tariffs, you would have your work cut out as a comparison shopper. And how much time do you want to spend on this exercise anyway? There comes a point, if you value your time at all, when the hour(s) you spend "shopping around" and "switching" – especially if, as can happen, the "switching" process goes wrong – cancels out any reduction you might achieve. Given that the tariffs are so opaque, and will doubtless remain so – consider the pricing model of mobile phones – the prospect of any real saving is minimal.

And this, rather than ignorance or apathy, may be the reason why only 20 per cent of all energy consumers switch at all. Personally, I'm surprised it is that many, and suspect the figure may be distorted by serial switchers. What I would like to see are figures comparing what the "switched" customers paid a year ago and pay now, with equivalent figures for the "non-switchers". Chris Huhne could make a start by showing us how it works for him. If the difference is more than £100 a year, then he might just persuade me that the time, commitment and risk required to make this brand of competition work has a chance of at least paying for itself. And if not, well, it's not a market we are looking at so much as a cartel.







A not-so-Grey Lady hastens a new world order



Epic news: The New York Times – the city's so-called Grey Lady – has appointed the first woman editor in its 160-year history. It's not so long ago – 1970 – that women were barred from membership of Washington's venerable (and self-regarding) National Press Club. Even in the late 1990s, when I worked in Washington, the newsrooms at the major US papers had a distinctly male complexion. Jill Abramson – I'll spare her blushes by not mentioning her age – worked her way up from financial and political reporting at The Wall Street Journal, to be poached by The New York Times to head its Washington bureau. Her reporting won her a reputation for utter dependability and honesty – qualities that the scandal-stricken New York Times of the past 20 years could well do with.

What change, if any, there will be, once a woman starts directing editorial operations at the NYT, will become apparent in due course. The immediate significance of her appointment is that what was surely one of the highest dams of male dominance in the US has been breached. If we are now contemplating a woman head of the IMF (Christine Lagarde is the runaway favourite), and if, as is rumoured and rather pallidly denied, Hillary Clinton fancies swapping her chair at the US State Department for the presidency of the World Bank, the global hierarchy starts to look rather different.

Not that this means any battles have been definitively won. This could be the point at which the men up sticks and decide to play elsewhere. If US global economic domination is waning and power is shifting from the old media to the new, the women could find themselves less pioneering world-changers than managers of decline, while the men rule the world from new perches. I hope such cynicism is wrong.

Drought? What drought?

You knew, didn't you, and so did I, that the moment the Government performed its ritual early-summer rain dance – the formal announcement of a state of drought – the heavens would open. As they did, barely 24 hours later, when pretty much all the country was doused. Fans at the Isle of Wight rock festival found themselves slithering in Glastonbury-style mud; and Andy Murray had to wait an extra day for his victory at Queen's Club.

Which prompts two thoughts. If official statements so reliably produce the very opposite effect, might this be the reason for the recent spate of U-turns? And, second, given that farmers had been worried about imminent drought for months, whatever took the minister so long?



React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron gives a speech at a Tory party dinner  

In a time of austerity, should Tories be bidding £210,000 for a signed photo of the new Cabinet?

Simon Kelner
Prime Minister David Cameron says his party must not ‘remain neutral’ in the EU membership referendum  

Greece might just have gifted David Cameron with EU referendum success

John Mullin
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most