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Sunday, 11 January 2015

Miliband challenges Cameron over rip-off energy bills

Ed Miliband has today challenged the Government to back fast track legislation next week giving Ofgem the power to cut energy bills. Speaking on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show, Ed Miliband promised to force a vote on the issue this Wednesday in what might be the last meaningful decision by this parliament.

The Labour Leader’s challenge follows recent comments from George Osborne in which the Chancellor accepted that the energy market was broken, but failed to set out any action to ensure families see cheaper gas and electricity prices because of falling wholesale energy costs. Together with Mr Miliband’s call on Saturday for a new measure on living standards, the latest move underlines Labour’s determination to put living standards front and centre of the debate about the future of Britain’s economy in this election.

Ed Miliband said: "The key test for success of an economic policy is its impact on living standards for working people and the next government will take radical action to restore the link between the wealth of our nation and family finances. Millions of people have been ripped off by the big energy firms who never seem to pass on savings to customers. In the last year, wholesale energy costs have fallen by between 9 per cent and 20 per cent but no supplier has reduced the price of their standard tariff.

“The next government is committed to making to big changes in our energy market: freezing energy prices until 2017 so that bills can fall but not rise, resetting the market and bringing in a tough new regulator to stop the rip-offs in the future. But now George Osborne, who used to warn such measures were impossible, is claiming he understands that the energy market is broken. So next week, we’ll give him, David Cameron and Nick Clegg the chance to help all those families they have been ripped off by the energy companies under this government.

“They have been making noises about energy bills. Now they can put their money where their mouth is because, if we work across party lines, we can bring in new powers for the regulator to cut bills and force energy firms to pass on savings to consumers. This can begin in Wednesday with a vote in the House of Commons on fast track legislation. This zombie Government has had no new meaningful legislation for months. But, with this vote Parliament can require the government to bring forward fast-track legislation. It would mean we would still do some good before Parliament is dissolved before the General Election. All it takes is other parties to abandon their previous opposition to fixing our broken energy market.”

Ed Miliband’s comments today comes hard on the heels of his announcement that Labour wants a new measure on living standards so that governments can be judged by their record in the real economy. On Saturday, he wrote to Sir Andrew Dilnot, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, asking him to consider introducing a new Living Standards Index. He suggests the index should by published on a quarterly basis by the Office for National Statistics and accorded equal status to current measures such as GDP. The OBR would be expected to issue forecasts on the LSI in the same way as it does now for GDP so that the Government can be held to account on its record over family finances.

Mr Miliband said: "The current government’s failure on living standards means working people have seen their wages fall by more than £1,600 a year since 2010 while full-time workers have seen their pay fall by over £2,000 a year. Indeed, this is set to be the first time since the 1920s that people are worse off at the end of the Parliament than they were at the beginning. This does not only cause hardship and pain for millions of families, it has also directly contributed to the Government’s failure to clear the deficit with stagnant wages leading directly to reduced tax revenues and higher welfare bills. Income tax receipts have fallen short of their 2010 expectations by more than £68 billion and revenue from National Insurance Contributions by £27.3 billion."

Ed Miliband continued: "But the experience of everyday families too often does not make its way into the minds of policy makers because current measures are flawed: the wage index ignores the growing number of self-employed; income data is a year out of date; and there is disagreement on which - out of a myriad of different indicators on prices - to use. And too often people look at the growth figures or hear the boasts from George Osborne and know these don’t reflect what is happening in their life. People are working harder and harder but getting nowhere; the feeling of dread that comes when bills come through the letterbox; the worry that money will not stretch to the end of the month. We measure so many aspects of our economy but the one thing we don’t properly measure is the thing that matters most: the success of working people."

"It’s time we had a measure of the success of our economy which reflects the success of working people. That is I how judge the success of our country and how I will judge the success of my government." Mr Miliband added.