John Penrose is the Member of Parliament for Weston-super-Mare. Follow John on Twitter.
Groaning about your gas bill? Wailing over your water rates? You aren’t alone. Most of us feel ripped off by our energy suppliers (and by our water firms, our banks and our phone companies too, for that matter). Worse still, we feel powerless to fix the problem. Partly because all those special tariffs are horribly confusing, so it’s impossible to be sure whether switching to a different tariff or another supplier would really be better or cheaper. And partly because switching is tricky, slow and might leave you in the lurch if something goes wrong halfway through.
Which means we’re all pretty fed up, and many families are struggling with the ever-rising cost of living. And the impact of high prices for power, water or transport on Britain’s employers is horribly damaging too. It raises costs, puts jobs at risk and slows growth; economists say we could grow by an extra 15% over the next ten years if we fix the problem. And, since economic growth and the cost of living are going to be central election issues after five tough years of austerity, the political stakes are sky high as well. Put simply, whoever owns this piece of economic turf by 2015, wins. It’s going to be where the battle is hottest.
So what’s the answer to making our gas, electricity or water more affordable in future? Well, a few consumer-friendly changes would be a good start. We should put power back into the hands of customers like you and me by making it much, much easier, quicker and safer to switch our accounts to a different bank, gas firm, or electricity or water company, so we can take our business elsewhere if we’re fed up. And we should blow away the fog around all the different tariffs and deals, so we don’t need a PhD to choose the one that’s best for us too.