As we enter the first cold snap of the year there will inevitably be a focus on the rising cost of energy – particularly after there have been inflation busting increases in gas and electricity tariffs of 6-10% over the past few months.
No country can stop the main cause of this – rising and high world prices for oil and gas. Yet we must do everything we can, to help people and firms struggling with these bills, especially the most vulnerable. And that’s why helping with energy bills has been and will be one of my top priorities.
From the Green Deal to be launched at the end of this month to the Energy Company Obligation, now in force. From the reform of tariffs to increased competition. We must look at all options to help. And that’s why I want your help to push my idea for collective purchase of energy.
Liberals have always believed in the important role of both co-operation and competition. As Competition and Consumer Affairs Minister in the Department of Business, I brought these two things together by launching a co-operative purchasing initiative. Communities coming together to use their bulk purchasing power to get good prices for their members.
When I became Secretary of State for Energy I was keen that this became an important priority for the Department. And so we’ve been backing trial schemes and encouraging the development of this new approach to buying energy. Last April, Which?’s Big Switch saw tens of thousands of households save an average of over £230 annually and I was delighted when Liberal Democrat run South Lakeland council also launched a collective switch which resulted in many of their households saving well over a £100 annually.
But I was determined that more should be done to help hard pressed households. So at our Autumn Conference I announced the “Cheaper Energy Together” competition to encourage local authorities and community groups to follow our and South Lakeland’s lead. As currently individual poor households are less likely to switch than better off households I made it a condition of the competition that particular focus should be on the fuel poor.
The response has been phenomenal with over 100 entries. Today I announced that 30 groups representing over 80 Councils and community groups have been successful in getting government funding. For those of you in successful areas make sure that residents know that this is a Liberal Democrat initiative to cut bills – and encourage them to register to take part. And for those in areas which are not yet part of a scheme – get out campaigning for them to join in!
But reducing energy tariffs is not the only, or even the best, way to cut energy bills. The best way to cut energy bills is to help people reduce their energy use. We are already having considerable success cutting energy use by on around 3%pa over the past few years. But we can and must do more. That is why the Liberal Democrat’s flagship Green Deal, which we will launch at the end of this month, will have a critical role to play – helping households improve their energy efficiency.
Our political opponents want to blame climate change policies for higher bills, despite the overwhelming evidence against this. If we don’t reduce Britain’s dependency on imported fossil fuels, with greater energy efficiency and home grown low carbon, people’s bills will just continue to go up.
Liberal Democrats in government have a great story to tell on what we are doing to tackle rising energy bills. But I need your help as Councillors and campaigners to ensure that these policies are translated into real achievement up and down the country. That’s why over the next few months I and my team are giving a high priority to producing campaigning material and training to help you ensure that these policies are successful in your local communities.
* Edward Davey is Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, and MP for Kingston and Surbiton