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There should be ‘no get out of jail free card’ for energy companies, unions warn

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng holds fresh crisis talks with gas suppliers as surging prices stoke a crisis in the sector

by our parliamentary reporter @TrinderMatt

UNIONS warned that there must be “no get out of jail free card” for Britain’s energy bosses today as surging wholesale gas prices stoke a crisis in the sector.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng held fresh crisis talks with suppliers as a 250 per cent increase in wholesale gas prices during the Covid-19 pandemic has left firms battling to stay afloat and households facing spiralling bills.

Following the discussions, Mr Kwarteng said ministers were “looking at options to protect consumers” as some analysts predicted that most energy companies in Britain would not survive the crisis.

At least one major firm, Bulb, is known to be seeking a bailout in a bid to stay afloat.

Mr Kwarteng claimed that cost pressures – exacerbated by a cold winter which depleted stocks and a reduction in supplies from Russia – would not be passed on to users as the energy price cap would remain in place.

Instead, the government is reportedly ready to offer emergency state-backed loans to private energy companies such as Centrica, which owns British Gas, and E.On, which is based in Germany.

The GMB, which represents energy workers, warned that bailouts would be a waste of taxpayers’ money unless guarantees for increased storage capacity and proper plans for energy security are attached.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has shown starkly how quickly global supply chains can collapse and the impact this can have on workers, communities and the basics of everyday life,” general secretary Gary Smith said.

He said the union has warned the government of an impending energy crisis since 2018, but that it has “been too slow to act, just like during the pandemic, and everyone is paying the price for it. 

“We can’t have a repeat of 2008 where the banks got a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Any bailout must come with cast-iron guarantees on significant changes that tackle the growing energy crisis.

“Otherwise we’ll only be lining the pockets of bandit capitalism once again while losing more and more control over our energy future.”

Public sector union Unison said that the government’s lack of an energy plan had “made a bad situation much worse.” 

“Allowing the market free rein, with multiple energy suppliers fighting for consumers, was always going to end in disaster,” general secretary Christina McAnea said.

“Ministers should consider taking the retail energy suppliers into public ownership and start buying energy on behalf of UK homes and businesses.”

Labour MP Zarah Sultana likewise called for public ownership instead of bailouts.

“Run for public good rather than private profit, energy can be rapidly decarbonised and bills slashed,” she tweeted.

Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband slammed the “fundamental failure of long-term government planning over the last decade,” which he said has left the country “vulnerable and exposed.

“The government must take all necessary steps to ensure stability for customers and do everything in its powers to mitigate the effects of this crisis on businesses and consumers.”

Shadow Scotland secretary Ian Murray blasted First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s “four years of broken promises” over her failure to deliver on a 2017 pledge to create a public energy company.

“The people of Scotland deserve better than a tired SNP government more interested in press releases than protecting households from rising bills, and a Tory government that has wasted the last decade and left the country facing the worst energy crisis in a generation,” he said.

National Energy Action chief executive Adam Scorer urged ministers to recognise that the issue is “not just about exposure to global gas price or vagaries of the wind — it is the exposure of millions to poor housing that cannot be kept warm.”

Only state-led investment could tackle fuel poverty and low-quality household insulation, which adds to climate change and higher energy bills, he said.


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