I welcome calls for more action from the Government's Energy Summit yesterday. It feels like a small step towards some radical change in the energy market. The energy summit should provide consumers with some relief before the winter sets in, with many suppliers pledging to freeze prices and offer additional help.All the major suppliers attended the energy summit, along with consumer groups such as Which?, government ministers including the Prime Minister, and the regulator, Ofgem.
There are several strands to getting our energy systems working better and cost effectively for everyone:
1. to make energy more affordable. We need to tackle confusing and unfair energy tariffs and find out what complicated energy stories are happening to real people across the UK. This includes ensuring that people are not forced into direct debit payment methods which can be more expensive for consumers, as they are based on estimates.
2. Remind people about how to keep their bills down. The government has launched a campaign to encourage people to 'Check, switch and insulate to save' – offering help and advice that could help them lower their energy bills in time for winter.
3. Ensure that Warm Front grants reach those most in need of wall cavity insulation or new efficient boilers installed to reduce bills.
I have been tackling the Warm Front funding for several years, and whilst it is an excellent scheme, I remain unconvinced as to whether it is really reaching many of those in the North East, and particularly in rural areas, where dependence on oil has seen dramatic rises in fuel poverty in the last 2 years.
The Green Deal which the Department for Energy & Climate Change is rolling out will start to reverse years of wasted opportunity to create fuel & heat-efficient homes. The Government are talking about reaching all 26 million homes in the country, which would be excellent. Making the homes of those least able to cope with the financial pressures more sustainable through lower bills has to be the starting point. I will be watching for the detail from DECC in the weeks ahead. Another winter with no prospect of lower bills is going to leave many of those in rural Northumberland on fixed incomes with the impossible and unacceptable choice of whether to eat or heat.