Unison: Nationalise the big six and create a ‘green army’ to help the UK hit net zero

Publicly-owned energy could work for the public, says the trade union.

Nationalising the retail arms of the big six energy firms would significantly boost the UK’s bid to become carbon neutral by 2050, says trade union Unison in a new report.

The Power to the People report calls on a future government to bring into public ownership the parts of British Gas (Centrica), SSE, E.ON, EDF Energy, Npower (Innogy) and Scottish Power (Iberdrola) that sell consumers energy.

This would instantly create a new ‘green army’ of workers dedicated to helping businesses and the public become more energy efficient, cut their bills and save the planet, says the report. 

Power to the People says this vision could be achieved for between £6bn and £9bn, and the workforce created from the big six firms could:

  • help ensure security of energy supply and ‘keep the lights on’
  • keep energy costs affordable for consumers and businesses
  • ensure the UK meets its climate change targets and moves to a low-carbon economy
  • make UK homes and businesses more energy efficient 
  • win over the public to achieve the net zero target by 2050 which the UK committed to last week.

The report compares the need for a rapid decarbonisation programme with the successful conversion of millions of homes from town gas to natural gas in the 1960s. 

This huge logistical operation, which was achieved by a public corporation with the national interest at heart, could happen again, according to Power to the People.

Commenting on the report Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said:

“The climate crisis is a fundamental threat to the future of the planet, but the UK won’t get to net zero emissions on a hope and a prayer. Proper action is required and quickly.”

“Public ownership of the retail energy sector is affordable – it could be done at a fraction of the cost of nationalising the energy networks.”

“It would also provide job security to thousands of workers currently employed by the big six energy firms, help deliver the government’s carbon neutral target, make us all more energy efficient and mean cheaper bills for everyone.

“In an instant a green army of thousands of workers could begin helping consumers reduce their energy consumption, bills and the country’s emissions. Solar panels and greener hydrogen boilers could soon become the norm.

“The inconvenient truth though is we must act now. The warning sirens are sounding and piecemeal action isn’t enough. We’ll have sleepwalked into an entirely preventable catastrophe If we fail to achieve net zero by 2050.”

According to the report, the debate so far has focused on ownership of the UK’s energy networks – the wires, pipes and production.

But it argues, bringing the retail arm of the energy sector into public ownership would enable the government to sign up millions of homes and businesses to the necessary green conversion.

It could also start a decarbonisation programme immediately and at a lower cost than many alternatives. 

Like this article? Left Foot Forward relies on support from readers to sustain our progressive journalism. Can you become a supporter for £5 a month?

4 Responses to “Unison: Nationalise the big six and create a ‘green army’ to help the UK hit net zero”

  1. Tom Sacold

    Yes. Nationalise the energy suppliers.

    But make sure that energy is cheap and the supply guaranteed.

    We need tidal barriers and more nuclear power stations.

  2. Dave Roberts

    No Tom, nuclear power is bad. The fact that is the only practical way forward is lost on the eco lot who simply stamp their feet and have tantrums.

  3. Patrick Newman

    The whole energy market is a great big smoke-filled hall of mirrors. There is no market because the supply of energy is a natural monopoly – gas is gas and electricity is electricity, you cant choose a different version of Ohms Law!. Privatisation was the crude ideological fantasy that Mrs Thatcher lived in. Like the other privatisations, we are all suffering the consequence of Thatcher’s pathological obsession. We need publicly accountable regional energy planning and management organisations and a national energy commission charged with continuity of supply and implementing a programme of reducing emissions to zero by 2035.

  4. Chester Draws

    Ah, the Venezuela solution!

    Nationalise it. Make it cheap. Thereby make it unprofitable. So maintenance isn’t done and there is no capital for expansion. And the country runs out of energy.

    If suppliers are ripping people off, then there is no need to nationalise them. Merely put in a state company to compete at the supposedly correct price, and that will drive the others out of business (for free, so no cost compared to nationalising). Except it won’t work, because any state company won’t be able to provide electricity cheaper — just as they can’t anywhere else in the world. Which sort of shows that nationalising will lead to more expensive electricity, because state firms aren’t cheaper.

    But the Left seems stuck on the Venezuela solution nonetheless.

Leave a Reply