Fess up Boris Johnson – the energy price crisis is the Tories’ fault

·5-min read

As families across Britain woke up this week to soaring energy prices, chaos at petrol pumps and sparse shelves in shops, the prime minister mumbled repeatedly, “crisis, what crisis?” This was a prime minister living in a parallel universe, so self-congratulatory was his speech at Conservative Party conference, and so absent was any mention of the cost of living crunch facing our country.

For those families whose universal credit was cut on the very same day as that speech was delivered, it simply added insult to injury. And with warnings that the energy price cap could rise by a whopping £400 in the spring, the crisis shows no signs of letting up. It’s time the prime minister started living in the real world, acknowledged the crisis, and took action to address it – starting with urgently reversing the indefensible cut to universal credit.

Because for all Boris Johnson’s showmanship, the stark reality is that millions of households on universal credit are being hit with a whopping rise in their energy bills at the same time as they face cuts of £20 a week. It’s estimated that the rise in the energy price cap means half a million more families will be plunged into fuel poverty.

So many businesses will also be facing a crippling rise in their costs at a time when countless other pressures are facing them, not least the shortages of staff and materials caused by another government failure to plan.

The government would have people believe that the energy crunch facing families and firms across our country is simply a global problem, but that is another example of its tendency simply to try and point the finger elsewhere. It didn’t have to be this way. It is a long-term failure of government planning and abdication of responsibility over the last decade that has left the UK particularly vulnerable compared to other countries without the resilience we need.

Watch: Energy boss calls for whole government approach to crisis

Under the Conservatives, our national domestic gas storage capability is around 2 per cent of our annual demand, compared to a quarter or even a third in some other European countries. They refused to listen to warnings when a crucial gas storage facility was closed in 2017, giving the closure the green light, and washing their hands of responsibility.

That’s just the start of their negligence. Despite some progress on renewables, Tory governments have blocked onshore wind, scrapped subsidies for solar energy and have overseen a slowing in the growth of renewable energy in recent years. They have stalled our national nuclear programme. Talking green but failing to act at scale for more than 10 years has left us in this position.

Another crucial failure which has led to UK households being particularly vulnerable to high energy costs is that we have amongst the least energy efficient housing stock in Europe, meaning families need to heat their homes more to stay warm. Emissions from buildings are actually higher now than they were in 2015.

One of the best ways to protect families, cut bills and emissions is to reduce demand by insulating homes. Warmer homes equals lower bills. That’s why Keir Starmer announced that Labour would launch a “national mission” to make every home in the country warm, well-insulated and cheaper to heat within a decade, upgrading 19 million homes, requiring £6bn annual investment – and saving families up to £400 a year on energy bills.

The government instead cut £1bn from their green homes grant scheme before scrapping it altogether, and its heat and buildings strategy has been delayed for month after month.

In fact, the last Labour government had a plan to ensure every new home built would be zero carbon, protecting families from gas price volatility. The Conservatives scrapped that plan, meaning years of lost progress and almost 800,000 homes built since that would have been zero carbon.

A basic duty of government is to ensure secure and affordable energy supplies for households and businesses, and the government is fundamentally failing in this duty because they failed to plan ahead.

They must not make that mistake again, and must look ahead to the future to protect our country, adopting Labour’s plan for a national retrofit programme to insulate Britain’s homes and for ambitious investment to scale up and diversify our zero-carbon energy supply. It is also clear that, as the head of Ofgem admitted this week, we are going to need to look at how to reform the broken energy supply market, which for too long has failed to produce security, sustainability, and affordability for consumers.

In the short term, the government must protect families by changing course and cancel the universal credit cut and end unfair tax rises for working people and businesses.

The energy price crisis is a crisis made in Downing Street. Instead of denial, the prime minister should fess up to 10 years of failure. The British people don’t need any more windy rhetoric without substance, promise not delivery, from the prime minister. They need a real plan for us to go green as a country – the best route to energy security – and they need a government which will act to tackle the cost of living crisis.

Ed Miliband is shadow business and energy secretary and Labour MP for Doncaster North

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