SNP lambasts London parties’ lack of understanding of energy market

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  By Bob Duncan

Mike Weir MP, Westminster Energy Spokesperson for the SNP, has lambasted the three London parties for the lack of understanding of the energy market they have displayed in a debate.

Speaking in a debate on Energy Market Reform he pointed out that both the Secretary of State and his Labour opponent assumed that the Energy Market concerned only those served by the big six energy companies, and had nothing to say to those who were off mains gas.

Opening the opposition-day debate on energy market reform today, Caroline Flint MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, predicted the government’s Energy Bill would fail to make the energy market more competitive.

She urged MPs to back a Labour motion which would replace Ofgem with a new regulator, require the energy companies to pool the power they generate and to make it available to any retailer and force energy companies to put all over-75s on their cheapest tariff. The bill made no mention of off-grid customers.

The coalition government’s own policy was obscured last week when David Cameron insisted energy firms would be compelled to give customers “the lowest tariff”. The exact details of how this will be achieved, in next month’s Energy Bill, have yet to be decided.

Following the debate, Mike Weir said:

“This part of the market is always forgotten, pushed aside and labelled as too difficult by successive governments, yet they have suffered price rises far outstripping even those faced by customers of the big six.

“Both Labour and Tory Governments concentrated on ‘switching’ and competition as the way to tackle rising energy costs, yet there is no evidence that either has had any impact on the energy market.

“Only those who are on an expensive tariff or prepayment meter are likely to significantly benefit from switching, and they are often the people least likely to do so for a combination of factors. They may have existing debt or they may have no bank accounts to gain by direct debit payment, and the energy companies make little effort to attract them.

“The idea of greater competition is equally misleading. According to the Office of Fair Trading there is plenty of competition in the LPG and home fuel oil market, yet there prices are rising even faster.”

In the debate, Mr Weir called for immediate action rather than grand plans that would take years to materialise, and cited his own attempts to move the payment of winter fuel allowance for off grid pensioners.

Mike Weir’s private members bill – which sought to help pensioners in off-grid households beat winter fuel costs – has been unable to progress after the preceding bill was talked out by MPs representing the Coalition Government parties.

The Winter Fuel Allowance (Off Gas Grid claimants) bill – which had secured cross party support as well as backing from Citizens Advice and a coalition of organisations championing rural issues, including the NFU – would have brought forward the payment date for the winter fuel allowance to off-grid pensioners to allow them to fill up their tanks while fuel costs are cheaper.

Mr Weir added:

“We are entering the winter period. Households need help now to meet rising bills.

“I introduced a Private Members Bill to give help to off grid pensioners. It was not a revolutionary measure and would not have cost anything extra, yet the present UK government was not even prepared to discuss the issue. The Tory whips killed the bill without even a debate.

“As Labour and Tory bicker over abstract plans, households throughout Scotland face a miserable winter of rising costs.”