In Parliament >> The energy omnishambles

12th November 2012

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  • Generation



Alan Whitehead, MP for Southampton Test, declares the government's energy policy an "omnishambles"

It can be little surprise that David Cameron’s pledge to “force” energy companies to offer all customers the cheapest tariff unravelled within a few days.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if energy companies were forced to offer their cheapest tariff, they would choose to offer only one tariff, and one they could make a profit from.

In quick succession, ministers told us in so many words that this promise couldn’t be met. But the prime minister insists “we are going to use the Energy Bill so we make sure... customers get the lowest tariff.”

And so now officials are scurrying around DECC, trying to work out how this plan can be incorporated into legislation that had not a word about tariffs in any of its previous iterations.

So, what sense can we make of all this? It is an energy omnishambles, of that there is no doubt. I first thought that the announcement was simply a slip of the tongue – but the fact the PM stuck closely to his formulation a few days later suggests other factors are at play.

It certainly was the case that Number 10 wanted to signal that there really were three players in the debate, not just the territory staked out between relatively sensible, renewable and low-carbon policy advocacy from DECC, and full-blooded, gung-ho “go-for-gas-and-never-mind-the-climate-consequences” line of the Treasury.

Who better than Number 10 to position itself as the intermediary on the side of prices, consumers and “energy realism”?

But what is alarming, is that the lack of understanding and expertise on energy policy at the prime minister’s office meant that no one spotted this particular intervention as self-evidently lame before allowing Cameron to launch it.

The consequence is that the Number 10 position has more or less blown up on the launch pad, and the scrap between the underpowered energy department and the overweening Treasury for the soul of energy policy will continue unabated.

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