‘Someone’s got to be summonsed, and that was decided upon’, declared Stanley Holloway in his recitation ‘Albert and the Lion’. In his case, young Albert had been eaten by the lion: at the energy summit on Monday, the energy companies were apparently eating the British public. Ho hum.
I’m not sure I was very impressed with the result. I walked past the BIS conference centre where the summit was taking place on my way to a meeting. Outside, brightly clad young women were handing out postcards to bemused passers- by. They had ‘thank you’ printed on them, together with the EDF logo. “It’s to say ‘thank you’ for keeping the lights on” they trilled. I couldn’t quite follow that.
Inside, Chris Huhne was announcing that ‘agreement’ had been reached on finding the best tariffs, switching and insulating, all of which had miraculously been run up in the form of printed banners behind him, I assume, by crack printers waiting to find out what the agreement was, and then hastening to knock out suitable texts, like super-speeded up Bayeux tapestry weavers.
The insulating part of the ‘agreement’ is unobjectionable but possibly short-sighted. I wonder how the public will take to being told that, this year, you can get wall and loft insulation for free, whilst next year you will get it under Green Deal for the bargain price of a permanent charge on your electricity bill.
Of course, the reality of all this pantomime mugging is that government has very few levers to pull in keeping energy prices down, and that, one way or another, they will keep on going up. The real opportunity to at least place some sort of order into price rises and gain additional levers on the volatility of the energy market lies in getting to grips with Electricity Market Reform, bringing in more transparent and responsive trading mechanisms and supporting the move to a more predictable and secure energy landscape. But that process is lengthy, complex and obscure. So instead, someone (or six of them, actually) is summonsed and we are exhorted to switch ever more frantically until we end up, quite possibly with the company we started out from in the first place. Not a good day for serious energy policy, really.