A joke too far...

12 September 2008

When a senior executive of energy company E.on made bragged that a harsh winter would mean 'more money for us' earlier this week, his insensitive and insulting 'joke' raised some important questions of the energy market and its regulator - that these companies make far too much money from us, far too easily.

We're all struggling with the rising cost of living, but Mark Owen-Lloyd's cheap quip is somewhat ironic, given that it was made at the Ofgem winter outlook seminar - he actually felt comfortable making it in front of the very people we trust to regulate the market, whose job it is to make sure they are not profiteering from our already dwindling bank balances. So what does that say about our regulator? Not much.

Sure Mr Owen-Lloyd says it was a joke, and E.on have apologised, but Ofgem needs to be brought into this whole debate. Are they are a watchdog with no teeth? After all Ofgem's main job is to ensure that the six principal energy companies do not profit from their dominance of the UK energy market, plain and simple. They could place a cap on how much energy companies can charge us, something that Ofcom does to great effect in the phone, mobile and broadband market. If Ofgem is all bark and no bite, like I suspect it is, the government needs to rush through measures to beef up their powers and now - I'm sure it would get support across all  of the parties.

But it's the five million lower income people on prepayment meters I felt most sorry for after hearing his gag. How is it sensible to have them pay higher tariffs than the rest of us? It's just non-sensical, just like good old Gordon's new green measures. What is really needed Gordon is a windfall tax on their sky-high profits, and filter it down to help those who are in fuel poverty to help them pay their bills. We all pay enough tax as it is and we've seen hardly anything for our money.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I see a winter of discontent on the horizon.

Liam Tarry is the Staff Writer at Moneywise