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Chancellor calls energy chiefs to account at round table meeting amid soaring utilities bills


Martin Williams  

 

    By Martin Williams

    THE Chancellor has said he will challenge energy bosses to do more to help their customers cope with soaring prices at a crunch meeting today.

    It comes as MoneySavingExpert.com founder Martin Lewis said soaring energy bills were creating a “national crisis” on the same level as the Covid pandemic.

    Nadhim Zahawi acknowledged that more needs to be done to help people with the spike in the cost of living ahead winter arriving, but suggested that rolling blackouts were unlikely.

    Mr Zahawi and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng will ask gas and electricity utilities company executives to submit a breakdown of expected profits and payouts as well as investment plans for the next three years.

    Analysts at Cornwall Insight have predicted annual bills are set to soar to around £3,582 in October, up from £1,971, before rising even higher in the new year.

    Leaked government documents have warned a “reasonable worst-case scenario” could see outages for homes and businesses in January if there is a combination of below-average temperatures and a drop in gas imports, according to reports.

    Mr Zahawi said: “It’s important we all get around the table, I will continue to do the work I need to do as Chancellor, but I also want to challenge them, to say, are you making the investment? How can you help your customers? What more can we do together? That’s the reason for the meeting.”

    He also said: “The other area I want to look at is, some of the energy producers, the amount that they get paid is linked to gas prices. So, they haven’t changed anything they’re doing, they haven’t had any increase in their input costs at all, but they’re getting a much higher return because of the unusually high gas price because of Putin.”

    Mr Lewis said according to forecasts, the price cap – the maximum amount suppliers can charge customers for each unit of energy – would effectively increase to double the level it was between May of this year and October.

    He said ultimately it was “government alone” which could help by putting “more money into people’s pockets”, adding: “This is a national crisis on the scale that we saw in the pandemic. “

    The chief secretary to the Treasury said that the Government is working up a fresh package of cost-of-living support for the next prime minister to consider when they take office.

    Simon Clarke argued it is “absolutely right” for the new leader to consider “these options in the round” when they take the reins, suggesting they should steer clear of announcing “new uncosted policies” during the election period.

    It comes after frontrunner in the Tory leadership race, Liz Truss, who has Mr Clarke’s backing, hit out at “bizarre” proposals that she agree help for energy bills with her rival Rishi Sunak, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson, before the contest is over.

    Tony Danker, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, has said that Mr Johnson and the two contenders to replace him should “come together to agree a common pledge to support people and help quell fears”.

    But Education Secretary James Cleverly said it is “not in the hands” of Ms Truss or her campaign team to “truncate” the process of finding a way to offer more help.

    “In order to bring about changes to tax systems or to financial support systems, we need to have votes in the House, and that needs to go through a proper scrutiny process,” he said.

    “It is not as simple as recalling parliament to have an emergency debate on something like military action, which is a very simple one-question ‘yes or no’ answer.”

    Meanwhile, nearly 50,000 people signed a petition backing former prime minister Gordon Brown’s call for an emergency budget to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.

    Campaign group 38 Degrees said that within 24 hours of going live, tens of thousands of people from had signed.

    The petition says: “The Government raised Universal Credit during the pandemic – providing a lifeline to millions – and with enough pressure, they could do it again.”

    Mr Brown has been joined by metro mayors, anti-poverty groups and faith leaders in demanding urgent action on Universal Credit and support for families.

    Mr Brown said: “People are being asked to bear an unbearable burden of unpayable bills at a time when so many are under pressure.”

    CREDIT: Martin Williams

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