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Opinion

Mick Lynch is right on energy prices: enough is enough

12 Aug 2022 5 minute read
Photo Plaid Cymru

Delyth Jewell

The UK energy market is a failed experiment, and we can no longer afford to live with the consequences of that failure. Nothing short of fundamental and radical reform, based on public ownership, will ameliorate the crisis that’s looming over the coming winter months, and help save millions of people from abject suffering.

It is frankly appalling that reform of this kind hasn’t come before now – but that’s because, for decades, the vested interests of shareholders have been allowed to trump the needs of millions of consumers in the UK, which is not the case in other states.

Let’s talk honestly here: this energy market has always been a con.  The gas we all get pumped into our houses is never handled by energy companies, and nor can individual companies choose to improve the gas they sell to their consumers to make their gas run more efficiently, or glow in the dark, or sing you a tune, or do anything that would justify charging people varying amounts of money for exactly the same product.

Yet somehow, we’ve all been sold the lie that it’s necessary for different households to be charged different rates for that selfsame, identical gas – simply so that rich shareholders can make additional billions of pounds.  It is an iniquity beyond all common sense.

Profit

The market revolves around keeping companies in profit, not ensuring that the people who need this energy to stay alive are able to afford it.

That is why it’s high time we accepted that the concept of profit has no place in domestic energy supply.

It’s a conclusion which the Thatcherites in the Tory party are singularly incapable of reaching, bound in knots as they are by their self-imposed dogmas.

I’m too young to remember the nationalised energy suppliers, but many of you as readers will remember those days: it’s almost impossible to imagine now, but the basis of nationalised supply was that energy was supplied at cost.

It was not run for profit, and any income over and above operating costs was reinvested in the system – which was owned by all of us, not by anonymous shareholders.

It’s a far cry from the hellish situation in which we find ourselves, in which the spectre of a dystopian winter begins to clutch at our consciousness even in the middle of an August heatwave.

A coming winter where people’s odds of surviving (remember, we talk about the cost of living ) will depend on how much money we each have.

So what needs to happen now?  In the short term, we need to return the price cap to levels seen before April (that is, £1,277 per year), an idea put forward recently by the RMT’s Mick Lynch, as part of his Enough is Enough initiative.

Suffering

We could do this by extending and backdating the windfall tax to cover all excess profits made by energy companies: they’ve done nothing to earn this excess money, and it is patently wrong that they’ve benefited at a time when so many ordinary people are suffering.

If necessary, this windfall tax could be extended to other privatised utility owners to cover the cost. Quite simply, it is billionaires who should pay for the increase in energy cost, not ordinary people who are already struggling because of inflation.

And while the cost of living crisis continues (again, let’s not allow ourselves to get too blasé and used to that concept – we’re talking about the cost of living, of surviving), we need other major reforms: why not introduce free public transport (with its associated climate benefits) to help people with costs incurred through high inflation, and why shouldn’t consideration be given to ideas such as suspending council tax payments for three months for houses in bands A-D?

During earlier stages of the pandemic, the Treasury was willing (and right) to bring in radical state intervention through the furlough scheme.  Why on earth shouldn’t government funds be used to help people stay alive now?

Fuel poverty

In the medium term, our nation is desperate for greater energy efficiency.  We in Wales are an energy-rich nation, but record numbers of households live in fuel poverty.

Every home in Wales should be offered an energy efficiency assessment and a payment plan based on income, over the next five years.

Further, legislation should be passed incorporating public benefit duties for privatised utility companies, forcing them to prioritise consumer welfare over profits (it’s an idea put forward by others like Will Hutton, and surely deserves attention).

And alongside a significant and desperately essential increase in renewable energy production, the entire energy industry in the UK quite simply has to be nationalised.  We should not fear that word.  Nor should we shy away from responding to this crisis with an urgency that is curiously and maddeningly lacking from both the main Westminster parties.

And this is before we even talk about the fact that Wales is the fifth largest electricity exporter in the world.  The electricity was generated here, it left Wales, and we were left with nothing for it.  An independent Wales would be paid for these exports: but that’s another story for another column entirely.

These ideas I put forward may be baulked at by those for whom ideology trumps common decency.  To those (mainly Tories) who oppose the idea, I’d pose this question: your energy market has failed us abysmally.  What possible reason can you still have for supporting this busted charade?

Delyth Jewell MS, is Plaid Cymru’s Climate Change and Energy Spokesperson


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Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones
1 month ago

Enough is, indeed, enough. Back the Enough Is Enough campaign. Whilst the Earth is plundered and destroyed the rich profit. When we toil, the rich profit. When the markets are good, the rich profit. When the markets are bad, the rich profit. Whilst we burn in the heat, the rich profit. When we shiver in the cold, the rich profit….and the law doesn’t apply to them. Whilst the Earth is Plundered and destroyed, we suffer. When we toil, we suffer. When the markets are good we suffer. When the markets are bad, we suffer more. Whilst we burn the rich… Read more »

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago
Reply to  Cathy Jones

Enough wife beaters, enough anti-traveller racists in local councils…

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago

Seen Mick Lynch a fair bit on TV recently and he talks a lot of sense. Very much an old style Union leader he works hard for his membership which covers a big range of jobs and income levels. While some of us may raise an eyebrow at the earnings levels of train drivers there are plenty of other ranks working within our transport system whose pay levels are far from competitive and make it hard to make ends meet. Lynch has been correct to widen the scope of his comments as the cost of living is a key component… Read more »

I Humphrys
I Humphrys
1 month ago

Welsh water. Welsh Energy.

Ex Plaid member
Ex Plaid member
1 month ago

We, the voting public, voted for this. All of it. Either we are stupid in aggregate, lied to and mislead or we made a choice for what we have. Maybe not a concious choice, but together we voted for profit before people and to ignore energy security risks.

Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
1 month ago

The only way the system will change in Cymru – is if we change it ourselves. We must have independence asap.

Neil Anderson
Neil Anderson
1 month ago

Excellent Delyth. Just add step tariffs to your mix… The lowest tariff should be set to cover 80% of a mean low-income household’s consumption. That might be near-zero for some below the mean. The bottom steps of the tariff could be small and cover a large proportion of households, but increase more steeply for larger users. At each step there would therefore be an incentive to reduce consumption. We need to use less energy. Cymru is making itself very vulnerable economically by over-investing in energy (the free market again leading to sub-optimal outcomes). And that damages our environment as well.… Read more »

Peter Cuthbert
Peter Cuthbert
1 month ago
Reply to  Neil Anderson

As a wizened wrinkly can I add for the benefit of our younger readers that under the nationalised energy market we paid for our energy quarterly in arrears. That meant you used three months of power before you had to pay for it unlike now where the electricity retailers expect you to pay them 1/12 of their inflated estimate of your annual usage before you get to see a single Watt.

I Humphrys
I Humphrys
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Cuthbert

BT; before Thatcher.

adopted cardi
adopted cardi
1 month ago

Its called “The Crisis of Capitalism” Those of us who went on anti thatcher demos demos warning of the consequences of her, the Milk Snatcher, getting in, will remember this. We knew that eventually it would collapse in a heap. What we didnt foresee was that it’d take so long. 43 years and counting ! How much longer do these far right imbeciles need to demonstrate that profits before People is a complete dead end.

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