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Britain’s biggest energy firms escaped being hit by Labour’s price freeze and have been ordered to cut their bills. The new Energy Secretary Amber Rudd has written to the six energy firms asking them to ease the pressures that they have put on families.

Since Labour threatened to freeze prices if Ed Miliband became the prime minister, gas and electricity bills increased and since he was defeated in the general election, the prices have not lowered at all. The promise by Labour involved an 18-month freeze, which also allowed energy companies to argue that they could not reduce tariffs too much before the election. This was because they could have been forced to keep them at the new low level.

This also meant that the big six energy companies were able to keep prices artificially high, which in turn, dramatically boosted their profits. The new Conservative government has said that energy firms must take action to reduce their charges. This is a result from the companies who saw their wholesale costs drop by 30%, yet they only reduced bills by 1.3% last winter.

Amber Rudd has written to British Gas, npower, EDF, e.on, Scottish Power and SSE to tell them that they should stop keeping their prices artificially high. In one year, the energy firms’ average profits have increased by 32% to £120 per household, according to the regulator Ofgem. This means that the energy firms are seeing an all-time high on their part.

The consumer group Which? estimated that the average family has lost out on £145 a year because the providers have failed to pass on lower costs. The Competition & Markets Authority has decided to start an inquiry into whether the companies have rigged the market by delaying price cuts. The Authority holds particular concern over the 60% of households who are on standard contracts because they pay more than those on non-standard tariffs. Loyal customers are also missing out on up to £234 over one year because they did not switch providers.

On Monday, Caroline Flint MP, Labour’s Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary, joined Labour parliamentary candidate Sarah Owen in Hastings to launch’s Labour’s major new plan to end the scandal of cold homes.

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Sarah Owen introduced the Shadow Secretary of State by highlighting the doorstep issues that were raised by individuals and families living in sub-standard housing.  She described the circumstances of a local woman who works part time to support her young family but has to raise them in a cold, damp home,

“As the weather gets colder more people across Hastings and Rother will struggle with paying to heat their homes.  So it was great that Labour’s Energy and Climate Change team led by Caroline Flint MP chose to launch our national plans for improving energy efficiency to an audience of local renewable energy businesses and residents in Hastings.  As well as tackling climate change, these practical solutions will help insulate over 5 million homes nationwide and result in reduced fuel bills for thousands of people in Hastings & Rye.”

Building on Labour’s energy price freeze pledge, Caroline announced a major drive on home insulation and set out plans to deliver long-term, permanent savings on energy bills and warmer homes for millions of people. The plans will mean that at least 5 million UK homes are upgraded over 10 years, saving the average household over £270 a year from their energy bill.

She revealed new figures, showing:

  • Energy bills in the least energy efficient properties are over £1,000 a year higher than homes with good insulation.
  • Two-thirds of households in fuel poverty live in the worst insulated properties.

The Energy Efficiency Green Paper sets out the steps a Labour Government will take to end cold homes:

  • Provide personalised home energy reports for half a million homes a year.
  • Deliver free energy efficiency home improvements to at least 200,000 low-income households a year.
  • Offer up to a million loans for home improvements that are interest-free in the next Parliament, for households that are able to help meet the costs.
  • Set a new target for landlords to get cold and leaky properties up to a decent standard.
  • Designate energy efficiency as a national infrastructure priority.

Speaking at Sussex Coast College Hastings, Ms Flint said,

“Britain is facing an energy bill crisis, with millions of people struggling to heat their homes. Labour has already set out radical plans to freeze energy prices until 2017, saving the average household £120, and fix the energy market for the future, with a tough new regulator to curb rip-off bills.

“But one of the main reasons our energy bills are so high is that our homes are some of the least energy efficient in Europe – leaking heat from their roofs, walls and windows. That’s why Labour has set out plans to freeze energy bills, reform the energy market and upgrade at least 5 million homes over 10 years. Our plans will mean cheaper bills and warmer homes for millions.”

 

In plans announced by leader Ed Miliband, Labour plan to allow Counties to set bus routes and set fares, as well as being able to integrate transport services. This will give East Sussex County Council similar powers to regulate bus services as those in London.

In Hastings and Rye, Labour’s parliamentary candidate Sarah Owen welcomed the news and said,

hastings-train-station“This is precisely what we need to help protect our local bus services. For the thousands of bus users in Hastings & Rye, and particularly those who supported our Don’t Stop our Bus campaign to save 99 routes across East Sussex, this could turn around the cycle of dwindling bus services, cuts and constant fare increases.

“In the future, we, as an area, would have a direct say over what bus routes we need and we can ensure they are properly integrated with other public transport.”

Announcing the policy Ed Miliband said,

“Labour will legislate so that counties can set fares, decide routes, and integrate bus services with trams, trains and the wider public transport network. Bus services and public transport should be the arteries that keep our regional economics moving, our roads less clogged with cars, and working people travelling to where businesses need them. We will put the public interest back on our buses.”

At present most regions have a strong in-built bias towards heavily deregulated bus provision which prevents them from delivering integrated public transport plans that would allow Oyster card-style ticketing and joined up networks with rail services. It also prevents them combining a transport plan with a growth strategy.

​Labour’s plan would allow county regions which come together in combined authorities to use a simple and swift procedure for getting greater control over local bus services – setting routes and fares, introducing smarter ticketing, and integrating those services with wider public transport and growth plans.

This will mean that rather than different private companies or Whitehall taking decisions about public transport, local areas would be put in the driving seat. Similar models exist successfully in many other countries, including Denmark, and local areas already franchise for some other services in a similar way, for example the Tyne and Wear Metro.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contact info:

For more information please contact Michael Wincott on 07743 349682 or email Michael_Wincott@labour.org.uk

Business In Hastings has an exclusive report from Sarah Owen, Labour candidate for MP in Hastings & Rye regarding her recent trip to China to exchange ideas and promote the local Vacuum Technology and other high tech manufacturing industries that the Hastings & Rother area becoming world famous for. Here in her own words is an overview of the trip.

We also have a small gallery of images from here trip which you can go to here.

Hastings: The South East manufacturing hub.

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Sarah arriving at Songshun Lake high tech park

When I talk to people outside of Hastings they normally say to me; ‘Oh, arrow in the eye, tapestry, invasion by Normans.’ They’re far less likely to know about building components for the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, high-powered lasers or high vacuum technology. Still less likely are people to mention that Hastings is the high tech hub of South-East England.

Hastings, which is my home town is the birth place of innovations including the first television broadcast to teaching Turing, but Hastings doesn’t just deserve that recognition, our future as a town depends on it. It isn’t enough to just be a high-tech hub, Hastings needs to be known as a high-tech hub.

Global influence

The investment that our businesses need to grow, thrive, and create the well-paid, high skilled jobs that our town needs, depend on our town’s reputation. However, in today’s world, our competitors, clients, and supply chains are not just limited to the UK, they’re global.

They’re in cities like Guangzhou and Shenzhen in southern China, where I visited earlier this month.

These two cities, both in the province of Guangdong, are China’s high tech pioneers. Guangdong’s open, outward-looking economic policies stand greatly at odds with the lagging social and political development in the rest of China – the world’s second largest economy whilst still being a developing nation. However, there is still plenty that we could learn, gain and offer this industrial powerhouse – with particular regard to high tech manufacturing.

Growth & Investment

Since the late 80s, Guangdong area has seen phenomenal growth, seeing only a brief dip in GDP growth during the global recession to a still enviable 7.2% – putting the UK’s forecast (and overdue) 2.2% in the shade. As a province, it has consistently led China’s growth over the past 30 years and is predicted to grow at above 8% and contribute another $900 billion to China’s economy.

None of this happened by accident. It took a deliberate, conscious decision by the Chinese government to turn fields of crops and low grade industry into science parks, technology hubs and business clusters. It was only possible with investment from business, the state, academia and by attracting support from overseas.

One example is the Guangzhou Science City, which is home to almost every kind of science and high tech industry you can think of including high vacuum, bio-tech, IT and renewable technology to name just a few. From its inception, the science city hasn’t stood still and constantly looks to support and welcome the next big technological innovation.

Support and R&D

This is heavily supported by the state through the Guangzhou Development District. On my trip, I met the Director of the committee responsible for it, who explained not only how much they had financially supported businesses in the science city, with reduced rents and the highest grade facilities but also practical business support and R&D. There is now 24/7 support for new businesses – his phone was never switched off.

We need to ask ourselves what we can learn from how they encourage growth.  This is most evident when attracting foreign investment, where applications for foreign direct investment are completed by the authorities within 3 working days. Without this commitment, and the continued support of the local development departments, thriving companies like Rio Bio would not have been able to expand as quickly as they had.

Maintaining our position on the global stage

Next to the continued austerity and slow growth we’re faced with here, Guangdong’s example is enviable. When I told both the Chinese businesses and development committee that our own local council will face a 70% reduction in funding from central government by 2017, they asked how on earth we expected to support growth in Hastings? And that is, quite literally the million dollar question.

Whether this support is replicated in the UK by our calls for a dedicated British Investment Bank to support SMEs, a cut in business rates or freezing energy bills which will have a direct impact on particularly manufacturing business’s sky rocketing overheads – it is clear that Government must act now to provide practical support to our local industries if we not only want to maintain our position, but to continue being the birth place of innovation.

Hastings: Time to show the world we’re open for business

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Sarah at the first Tec 66 event in summer with Maggie Aderin Pocock, Lord Bassam and Council leader Jeremy Birch and business leaders.

Hastings is home to established names with world-class reputations, General Dynamics, Torr Scientific and Photek among them. But we need some of the reputation of those brands and our excellent experienced service industry, to not only be located in our town, but associated with it as well.

Businesses in Guangdong are crying out for the quality that Hastings’ businesses can offer, as much as we are for high quality jobs. But Hastings’ reputation for high-tech manufacturing and services is barely known elsewhere in Britain, let alone on the other side of the world, in China.

Tec 66: Why its important

This is why events such as Tecc 66 are so important. We need to be prepared to shout about what we are good at, and sell to a global market, which is what I did at every opportunity that I was visiting businesses in China. Nothing less will do in today’s globalised world.

That is why I am working to bring more international exhibitors to the next Tec 66 event and other similar events for our creative industries. That will help build on existing trade links, support our businesses to join major international supply chains, create jobs and ultimately ensure that Hastings has an economic identity that is known worldwide.

To get in touch with Sarah or to follow her via Twitter please see below

Email: Sarah@sarahowen.org.uk

Twitter: @sarahowen_

You can also find out more about Sarah at her website here.