Ministers' summit with big six energy firms was a 'wasted opportunity'

Tom Bawden
Saturday 22 October 2011 08:46

The Government's much-vaunted energy summit was condemned as a "big wasted opportunity" by a leading independent participant yesterday, who accused politicians of failing to put enough pressure on the "big six" gas and electricity providers to lower bills.

As a result of the summit, which kicked off a campaign by David Cameron to cut Britain's energy bills, the big six agreed to write to 8 million British households to inform them that they can save money by switching to direct debit.

Although the energy companies will not change any of their charges as part of the letter campaign, many households appear not to be aware that they can shave about £100 off their annual dual-fuel bill by switching, according to the Department for Energy and Climate Change.

However, Stephen Fitzpatrick, managing director of Ovo Energy, one of only two independent gas and electricity retailers to attend the meeting, was unimpressed with the move.

"It's a really big wasted opportunity. To have all those people together in the same room – the Energy Secretary, the Prime Minister, Which?, Consumer Focus, Ofgem, the big six – and to come up with nothing that we haven't heard before," Mr Fitzpatrick said.

"Why don't the big six automatically put their customers on to better tariffs, or why don't they reduce the most expensive tariffs. Why put the onus on the customers, writing to them to tell them they can pay less," he added.

At the summit, Mr Cameron urged households to change supplier, make sure they are on the cheapest tariff available and insulate their homes.

He also reiterated earlier demands by Chris Huhne, the Energy Secretary, pictured, and Ofgem that the big six energy companies make it easier for their customers to compare tariffs and to switch providers.

The summit was convened after a round of price rises that left more than a quarter of households in"fuel poverty", where more than 10 per cent of their post-tax income is spent on gas and electricity. The big six also agreed yesterday to write letters to 4 million of the most vulnerable customers in Britain to tell them they are eligible for free or heavily discounted insulation to their lofts or cavity walls under existing schemes.

With the average dual-fuel bill now at a record average of £1,345, high unemployment and a poor economic outlook, the rising cost of energy has become a political issue that the Government is keen to be seen to be tackling.

The subject became even more political on Friday when Ofgem accused the big six of profiteering. The regulator revealed that the big six were making an average profit of £125 per household following price increases, compared with about £15 at the start of June – although the energy companies hotly disputed the figures, arguing that their retail profits were far lower.

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