David Cameron accused of backtracking over energy price promise
DAVID Cameron’s plans to reduce soaring fuel bills were in disarray last night amid accusations of backtracking on his commitment to require energy companies to give households the cheapest deals available.
• PM vowed yesterday to introduce legislation to ensure customers were put on lowest tariff
• Energy Secretary Ed Davey distances himself from proposals
• Downing Street says firms will be obliged to “offer” cheapest deals
The Prime Minister plunged energy policy into confusion with his surprise announcement on Wednesday that the government would legislate so that gas and electricity companies “have to give the lowest tariff to their customers”.
But yesterday, Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary, distanced himself from the proposal, and No 10 said firms would be obliged only to “offer” the cheapest tariffs.
Attempting to clarify his statement last night, Mr Cameron stopped short of repeating his earlier suggestion, but said he wanted to be on the side of hard-pressed people “who struggle to pay energy bills”.
“That’s what I said in the House of Commons yesterday. We are going to use the forthcoming legislation, the Energy Bill coming up this year, so we … ensure that customers get the lowest tariffs,” he said on arrival in Brussels for a European Union summit.
Neither energy firms nor the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) are thought to have had any forewarning of Mr Cameron’s statement in Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday..
Labour claimed the government was defending a policy it had no intention of implementing and compared the situation to the BBC comedy series The Thick of It.
Mr Davey delivered a speech on energy market reform to the CBI yesterday which contained no reference to the Prime Minister’s headline-making announcement.
Asked about it afterwards, he referred instead to moves previously announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to require energy companies to inform customers of the lowest tariffs available.
“I’ve been working with the energy companies, to try to drive more competition, to get them to agree that they will tell their customers what are the best available tariffs, so customers can save money,” he said.
Energy minister John Hayes, hauled before the Commons to face an urgent question on the matter, said there were “a number of options” being considered and voluntary arrangements announced by Mr Clegg in April would be “evaluated to see if we should make the legislation binding”.
He added: “We will use the Energy Bill to get people lower tariffs, and of course there are different options to be considered in the process.”
A No 10 spokeswoman declined to say whether DECC had been informed in advance, saying only that there had been “discussions on this issue for quite some time”.
“The point is to ensure that people pay the lowest possible tariff,” she said.
Shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint said the PM’s statement had caused chaos in the enegry industry, “and I have to say it left his own ministers at a loss as to what energy policy actually is. It is like something out of The Thick of It.”
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