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Majority Conservatism: Five ideas for Cameron: 4) Take up John Penrose's plan to combat rip-off utilities

By Paul Goodman
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Penrose JohnLower earners are being hit by rising energy costs, as are those who aren't earning at all - such as retired people on modest incomes whose savings are getting little return. Unemployment carries a heavy human cost with it, especially in times of low growth and diminished opportunity.  But inflation can also drive fear and anxiety: prices have been rising more rapidly than some would expect, given our recent low-growth economy.  The price of filling up a car or paying a quarterly utility bill is a driver of resentment among those hard-pressed voters who David Cameron needs to win back if he's to stand a chance of winning in 2015.

John Penrose outlined on this site yesterday his proposals to combat the rises in gas, electricity and water bills.  His plans can be read in full in his paper "We Deserve Better", but the outline is clear enough: the replacement of the specialist Big Regulators (Ofgem, Ofwat, Ofcom) by Big Consumers (armed with more choice and information by more consumer-responsive regulators, such as Office of Fair Trading and Competition Commission) - and an overhaul of the bodies that represent those consumers.  Tony Lodge of the Centre for Policy Studies has also called for more transparency and liquidity in the system.

The exemplar of how to run an energy costs-related campaign is Robert Halfon, whose lobbying against fuel duty rises has been one of the biggest successes of this Parliament.  Rises or falls or freezes in fuel duty are easy to understand.  Reforming the architecture of utility regulation to help the consumer, as Penrose proposes, is a more gradualist business - sincethe utilities don't always have a lot in common other than being state-owned.  But action is important and the Government is short of time.  Lodge's proposal to delay the carbon price floor is clearer-cut, but Clegg and company would presumably block it. A good subject for a Tory backbench bill, though.


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