Immoral energy companies should face corporate manslaughter charges if people die this winter
Carrie Harper, Plaid Cymru Councillor for the Queensway ward on Wrexham Council
Every winter there are more deaths than in summer.
Across Wales and England this was 23,000 a year in pre-pandemic times. This is likely to increase significantly this winter unless something is done to tackle soaring energy bills.
That’s why it’s time to seriously turn our attention to the soaring profits of companies cashing in on the energy price hikes coming this winter.
It’s surreal seeing our bank accounts drained into the ever-swelling pockets of oil and gas companies who are currently recording record profits. BP, Shell, Total Energies and Equinor, four of Europe’s largest oil and gas companies, recorded more than £74 billion in pre-tax profits in the first six months of this year.
Domestic energy bills are expected to reach approximately £3,549 a year for the average household from October, with estimates this will increase to £6,166 by April next year.
The Welsh Government estimates that the winter hikes will push a staggering 68.7% of Welsh households into fuel poverty.
The picture for businesses is bleak too, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) have recently announced that 53% of firms are expected to stagnate, shrink or fold in the coming 12 months.
In Wales, over 60% of our businesses are SMEs, who employ around 1.2m people. The impact here will therefore be particularly devastating.
Without major intervention, NHS bosses are also warning of an impending public health emergency which will lead to a rise in excess deaths and more people falling ill faced with the choice of skipping meals or heating their homes this winter.
In the face of this impending disaster, where should accountability sit?
Plaid Cymru’s Delyth Jewell MS quite rightly called this week for the Westminster Government to reduce the price cap to pre-April levels of £1,277 per year, paid for through implementing a higher and backdated windfall tax on excess energy company profits.
It’s a sensible approach, meaning it’s unlikely to be implemented by a Westminster Government in the pocket of right-wing think tanks funded by fossil-fuel interests.
The longer-term solution is clearly public ownership, we need key industries like energy run in the interests of our communities rather than shareholders.
This is something we’ll achieve much faster in an Independent Wales, with both the Tories and Labour in England having ruled it out.
Under Westminster rule we’ll be at the mercy of oil and gas profit margins for the foreseeable future.
In the shorter term though, if desperate pleas from communities, health leaders and politicians continue to fall on deaf ears, we will have no choice but to take on the big boys directly, and maybe it’s about time we did.
In Wales, England and Northern Ireland, the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act came into force in 2008, meaning that companies and organisations can be found guilty of corporate manslaughter as a result of serious management failings resulting in a gross breach of a duty of care.
With thousands of lives and livelihoods acknowledged to be on the line this winter as a direct result of energy price hikes, the profits being raked in by energy firms are simply obscene.
This immoral behaviour needs to be challenged, possibly the best place to do that is in the courtroom.
Let’s hit them where it hurts, in the pocket.
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