Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Would you mind helping me out with something, oh reader?

I'm not sure how I feel about something, and I'd like to canvass some opinion. 

Here's the thing: every month, a direct debit for £89 whooshes silently from my bank account and into the coffers of NPower. In return for my £89, I have sockets which dispense electricity, lights which illuminate my family's home when we flick the switch, and toasty warm radiators when the temperature plummets in the winter months (for the record, it's not on yet, I've only got back into wearing trousers instead of shorts in the last fortnight).

A lot goes into that bill, you can see what proportion is spent on what by looking here.

Eighty-nine pounds. On the face of it, that doesn't seem too expensive for such a crucial product: energy. And it's not. When that bill lands on the mat, I groan, but not because it's really expensive. Just because it's a bill, and the only post I ever get is either telling me how much money is going into my account (not enough) how much is coming out (plenty) or how much is left (less than nothing, generally).

But we all need energy. Heating and lights are not things I would ever want to have to make do without (although there are those who do, and that's another blog post entirely). Energy is an essential. 

A socket, in my house, right now.

The thing I'm unsure of is this: do I think it's okay that the suppliers of our energy are making a shedload of money by selling it to us?

Today, Ed Milliband gave his speech to the Labour Party conference. In it, he said a Labour government would freeze the price of energy until 2017. Almost immediately, the Guardian (yes, sorry, I'm a bit lefty) comments section was full of people saying things like "it's a nice step in the direction of re-nationalisation" and others saying "re-nationalisation is just a return to the outdated politics of the 70s, when Labour fucked the country right up and there were power shortages".

Thing is, I don't remember the 70s, because I hadn't been born. I can well imagine that it was a bit shit, three day working weeks, strikes on all days ending in y, that sort of thing. But is there a reason, intrinsic to nationalisation, that the supply of energy couldn't be publicly owned? I don't know. What do you reckon?

What I see at the moment is a few, very large, companies who can pretty much charge what they want for energy, because what are we going to do about it? Unless we want a return to using candles to light our homes, to using an open fire to heat them, we can't decide we won't give one of the energy suppliers our custom. They can charge what they like, make as much money as they see fit, and we have very little say over it. That doesn't seem fair to me. 

But maybe it is. What do you think?


  1. I always struggle with providing a coherent argument for things like this, as much as I am passionate about them for my Sons future, I always come across like 'it doesnt affect me'. But I do care. And I agree with you.

    Thing is, if, on the whole we all said we didn't mind reverting to Candle light or embracing solar energy, would the energy providers give a shit? Would they be forced to regulate thei

  2. their charges? Or give up the whole charade entirely? Actually, why has no one forced us to embrace solar energy?

  3. (AKA your father-in-law). No, there is no reason why nationalisation could not work, in fact it did for many year after WWII. I say "could work" because there would be hefty problems with renationalisation and nationalised industries have their own dificulties, eg with management, role of trades unions. However, IMO, and as with the railways, privatisation has not delivered the promised benefits and in an ostensibly competitive market it is very difficult to make any significant savings by switching, even if you have the time and energy to do the necessary research and work. It also needs a whole panoply of regulation to keep a watch on the energy companies, without significant success so far. Nevertheless I can't realistically see companies being renationalised in the near future so I hope that Labour's proposals will at least effect some improvement for us consumers.

  4. Reckon the folk who are truly in power are the ones supplying us with energy, and petrol. We can't do without it. There are only a few providers. And if they decide to charge us an absolute fortune, what are we going to do about it? (By the way, I'm very impressed with a father-in-law who not only comments on your blog, but uses IMO and knows what it means!)

  5. I'm very much a capitalist and really don't think we want the government running any business at all. They're politicians with no management or specialist skills in general. But the question here is always how much profit is ok, they have to make something of course as they have shareholders (which many of us are through pensions).
    The challenge is creating enough competition for consumers to get a fair deal, don't think we're close enough to that yet. But Milliband's speech smacks of headline grabbing rather than anything really thought out.