'Bonkers': Liz Truss faces backlash over response to blackout fears

British Prime Minister Liz Truss makes a press statement after a meeting of the European Political Community at Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic, Thursday, Oct 6, 2022. Leaders from around 44 countries are gathering Thursday to launch a
Liz Truss's refusal to encourage the public to use less energy despite a warning from the National Grid of blackouts has been branded 'bonkers'. (Reuters)

Liz Truss's refusal to encourage the public to use less energy amid warnings of potential blackouts this winter has been branded "bonkers" by a former government adviser.

On Thursday, the National Grid said customers could be left for periods of time without power this winter due to gas shortages as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues to disrupt supplies to Europe.

“In the unlikely event we were in this situation, it would mean that some customers could be without power for pre-defined periods during a day, generally this is assumed to be for three-hour blocks," the National Grid said.

However, Truss appears to have played down these concerns, insisting on Thursday that the UK has “good energy supplies” and “can get through the winter”.

However, on Friday, climate minister Graham Stuart acknowledged the government was "planning for all eventualities" and admitted it was not planning to tell people to reduce overall energy consumption - but refused to rule out rationing.

And, according to The Times, there has been some disagreement within Cabinet with the prime minister blocking an attempt by energy secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg to announce a £15m energy saving public information campaign - reportedly because Truss wants to avoid a "nanny state".

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The refusal to lay out a clear information campaign has drawn criticism.

Will Tanner, a former Number 10 adviser and director of the centre-right think tank UK Onward, described the government's decision as "bonkers".

"It has been obvious for months that rolling blackouts are a risk this winter," said Tanner.

"It's bonkers that ministers haven't yet launched a campaign to advise households & businesses on how to cut energy use, but still time to do so."

Adam Bell, former head of energy strategy at the department for business, energy and industrial strategy, told Yahoo News UK the government's decision not to give the public advice is likely to be ideological.

“The government has opted to not implement any sort of energy saving campaign," said Bell.

"The reasons for that, you can believe what you want, but from my experience of people in Number 10 and around Whitehall the government is focused on not being a nanny state, or not being seen to be telling people what to do," said Bell.

A view of the National Grid's Interconnexion France-Angleterre (IFA) site in Sellindge, Kent, following a fire which broke out in the early hours of Wednesday, causing a power link between the UK and France to be shut off, leading to a jump in wholesale electricity prices. Picture date: Thursday September 16, 2021.
The National Grid has warned blocks of three hour blackouts are a risk this winter. (PA)

"But the difficulty is, this isn’t about telling people what to do.

"This is about telling, giving, people good reliable information on how they can save energy this winter to help stave off blackouts.”

Senior research fellow at Imperial College, Malcolm Grimston, told GB News on Friday: "One of the useful bits of advice would be telling people what uses electricity and what doesn't around the home."

The government has also come under fire due to wider concerns that an unintended consequence of the government's energy bill support package - which freezes the price of energy - could mean households make less effort to cut down on their energy use.

Labour has criticised the government's strategy, saying it would be "sensible" to give the public advice on how to cut down on consumption.

“It is entirely possible and sensible to give the public factual information about how they can save money on their energy bills," said climate change secretary, Ed Miliband.

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“It would be wrong for Liz Truss to block the provision of this kind of information because of dogma or embarrassment about the energy crisis that failed Conservative energy policy has caused."

And the Liberal Democrats have called on the government to call an emergency COBR meeting to discuss the crisis.

"Too much time has already been wasted by the Conservative Government in failing to protect Britain from blackout misery and even higher prices this winter," said Lib Dem leader, Ed Davey.

“Liz Truss must convene COBRA immediately and spell out her plan for our country."

He added: "A failure to act now could see millions plunged into rolling blackouts whilst petrol and heating oil prices spiral even further out of control."

Watch: Blackouts: What are they and why might they happen this winter?