Huhne’s tough talk on energy companies exactly what we need

Natan Doron is a researcher at the Fabian Society

Providing scrutiny of the coalition’s “greenest government ever” policy package has been an essential task of the environmental movement over the last 18 months. But providing credit where it’s due is also important. Chris Huhne today set out some important directions of travel for climate change policy over the course of this parliament.

Chris-Huhne-Liberal-Democrat-conference-Birmingham-speech-20-09-11He had this to say about the energy sector:

“We are determined to get tough with the big six energy companies to ensure that the consumer gets the best possible deal. We want simpler tariffs.

“Requiring energy companies to tell you whether you could buy more cheaply on another tariff. And you can save real money.”

This is exactly the kind of talk that we need from our energy secretary at this crucial juncture for policy in this area.

As pointed out already on this blog, consumers are feeling the squeeze and government has a big responsibility to ensure bills are kept low as well as clear and simple. The burden of responsibility for tackling climate change is a sensitive issues and if consumers feel they are bearing a disproportionate share, this could be catastrophic for attitudes towards a range of policy measures.

Getting energy bills right is crucial for this.

Huhne also talked about freeing up red tape to allow smaller companies to compete in the market. Whilst addressing the status quo of energy monopolies, there is an element of caution to proceeding when cutting red tape in the energy sector. More competition is good but bad practice often flourishes in the absence of regulation, so this has to be done carefully.

Huhne is on the right track. But he faces some stiff competition from his less climate-friendly coalition partners. Furthermore, as Friends of the Earth point out, the tough talk on the big six has to be backed up with strong action. We must ensure that we support and scrutinise every step of the way.

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