Cameron urges work to bring down energy bills
David Cameron admitted the Government needed to work "harder and faster" to bring down energy bills today ahead of a summit.
The Prime Minister said the meeting at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills with representatives of the "Big Six" power firms, consumer groups and regulator Ofgem would discuss how to create a "trusted, simple and transparent" market.
In a joint article with Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary Chris Huhne on the moneysavingexpert.com website, he wrote: "Energy bills have increased by more than £100 for most people since this summer.
"These price rises couldn't come at a worse time for consumers who are already feeling the pinch from rising petrol prices and the cost of the weekly shop."
The premier said he wanted to focus on "getting people the help they need to reduce their bills in time for this winter".
"Our intention is for today's summit to be the start of a much more active engagement with consumers, with us all working harder and faster to deliver an energy market that is trusted, simple and transparent," he added.
"A market that puts the consumer first and gets these energy bills down as much as possible.
"We are determined that everything that can be done will be done to help people bring their energy bills down."
The summit is expected to consider how better to inform consumers about the potential savings they could make from checking they are on the cheapest energy deal, switching supplier, or taking advantage of subsidised insulation.
The coalition is aiming to get on the front foot on energy bills after Labour leader Ed Miliband attacked the "rigged" market in Britain.
Power firm SSE seemingly heeded his call last week by announcing its power be sold on the open market - rather than going straight to its own supply arm.
Experts estimate the move could bring significant savings for customers if the other five major players in the industry followed suit.
There was also an angry reaction last week when it emerged that firms' profit on the average household energy bill had soared from £15 a year to £125 in a matter of months.
But shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint insisted: "The Government's warm words won't heat homes during a bitter winter.
"They're unable to take on vested interests, they won't tackle the spiralling prices imposed by the energy giants, they won't investigate the mis-selling of energy and they won't help the pensioners whose winter fuel payments have been cut.
"Unless the out-of-touch Government gets to grips with the real issues at the Energy Summit, their only promise is a cold, costly winter for all."
Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, is among those attending the meeting this afternoon.
"This is an opportunity for the energy suppliers to show they understand how angry people are about rapidly rising prices and bad customer service," he said.
"It is also an opportunity for the Prime Minister to show a real commitment to reforming the energy market so that fuel is affordable for all consumers.
Mr Huhne told BBC News: "At the moment we've had some very big increases in electricity and gas prices, principally because of the very sharp increases in prices on the world markets.
"But consumers are not powerless. They can save up to £200 by switching, and that's absolutely key to try and help them make the market more competitive, because the best guarantee that you're getting value for money is to have more people bidding for your business."
He said the Government is working with Ofgem to simplify "dramatically" the number of tariffs.
"I'm determined that we have a much clearer, fairer and much more competitive retail market so that consumers can switch more easily with simpler tariffs and get better deals, and so we get new entrants into the market and that's what we're doing with the electricity market reform to bring new competition into the market," he said.
"These companies are not the Salvation Army, they are trying to make profits for their share-holders, and that's important that we in the Government work with Ofgem to make sure that these are genuinely fair and competitive markets."
Friends of the Earth executive director Andy Atkins said: "The big six are making billions in profits by keeping us hooked on expensive gas and coal - while Government support for people who want to generate their own clean energy is facing the chop.
"Huhne is spot-on that getting off fossil fuels and slashing energy waste is the only way to cut our bills in the long run. It's just a shame Government policies don't do the job.
"That's why we're launching a new campaign today calling for a public inquiry into the power of the big six and urgent action to stop ministers killing off clean British energy providers.
"If this summit is to turn the tide of energy bill pain, it must set out plans to switch the UK to clean energy and loosen the big six's grip on our energy system."
Neil O'Brien, director of thinktank Policy Exchange, pinned the blame for rising costs partly on climate change targets,
"The Government cannot lay the blame for rising energy bills solely at the door of the energy companies. Unnecessary and overly-expensive climate policies play a major and increasing role in driving up prices," he said.
"The EU's 2020 renewable energy target, for example, will do nothing to reduce emissions in the electricity sector in the next 10 years, yet the total cost of the policy is around £60 billion.
"By 2020, more than half of the policy-driven costs on bills will result from renewable subsidies. By allowing greater flexibility in how we meet the renewables target, the Government could save UK bill payers up to £12 billion.
"Ditching it altogether would lead to much greater savings. A cheaper approach to climate policy - focused on driving down carbon emissions, not wasteful subsidies of renewable energy - will lead to cheaper bills."
E.ON today followed British Gas in announcing ahead of the summit that it would not raise prices this winter.
Chairman Paul Golby said: "It's vital we all make sure British families get the best value from the money they will spend on keeping warm in the coming months. That is why we promise no price rises this winter.
"This is on top of the range of help, advice and measures we have in place to help people insulate their homes, moderate their energy use and even generate their own electricity.
"This summit is a start to making sure customers are more aware of the advice and assistance we provide that will help keep their homes warm and their bills under control.
"Now is the time for action, not words. So let us be honest with consumers, not just about the challenges we face from rising energy prices but also about what we can all do to help control consumers' bills.
"It is only by doing this that we will deliver the sustainable energy future we all wish to see."
Mr Miliband accused the Government of "engaging in window dressing and not real change".
He called on Mr Cameron to tell the power firms that they should not go ahead with "crippling price rises" that will hit individuals and businesses.
The Leader of the Opposition said that increased transparency was needed to stop the "fast buck culture" of energy companies and allow consumers to receive a "fair deal".
"This is a rigged market," he said. "This is a market that isn't working to the benefit of consumers. We need big reform."
Simon Walker, the new director general of the Institute of Directors, said: "The blame game going on around rising energy prices is not helping businesses or households facing very high energy bills.
"We absolutely need to improve competition in the energy market, but a policy of trying to modify price rises by exhortation is simply not credible. Worse, it hides the very real impact of the expensive renewables programme on energy prices now and, more significantly, over the next decade.
"Current policies risk locking us into cleaner and more expensive energy, when the goal should be cleaner and cheaper energy. What may have been tolerable in an age of affluence is far less realistic today.
"Undermining the UK's competitiveness through high energy costs would do no favours to either economic recovery or the environment."
Rhian Beynon, head of policy and campaigns at the charity Family Action, said: "These latest Government initiatives on energy prices will leave the poorest families out in the cold.
"Plans to encourage consumers to switch to direct debits to pay energy bills will do nothing to help the most vulnerable families who face the daily choice of heating their home or putting food on the table. Some of the most vulnerable families we work with do not have bank accounts because they don't have the income coming in to afford them.
"Families choosing between heating and eating will find no comfort in these measures. They need financial support from the welfare system to help them heat their homes, not empty words which are meaningless to them."
On a visit to the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) headquarters in London Prime Minister David Cameron said it was "really important" to help people find ways to keep their energy bills down.
He told staff the Government was looking at ways to tackle the problem in the short, medium and long term.
He added: "In the short-term the most important thing we can do is help people with their bills.
"That is helping people to switch energy supplier, making sure we have got a competitive market and also helping people with the baffling array of different schemes there are."
Mr Cameron said the medium-term goal was to make the energy market more competitive.
He added: "In the longer term, I think we need to be frank that in order to have safer and more secure and long-term affordable energy prices we have got to make sure we are not too reliant on carbon energy sources, often from unsafe and unstable parts of the world.
"While that will cost money up front, it's actually good for consumers in the long-term because we are going to have safe, secure and balanced supplies of energy."
Mr Cameron made the visit with Energy Secretary Chris Huhne and jokingly handed over to him by saying: "I'm always a great believer that there is no point having a dog and barking yourself, although of course I wouldn't say that about the Energy Secretary."
Mr Huhne told the CAB workers that the voluntary Warm Homes discount, currently only available from energy firms to limited numbers of vulnerable bill payers, was being made statutory.
He added: "There is an increase in the amount available compared with the voluntary scheme so we really can help those most in need over what could be a very tough winter."
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