Gas companies challenged on profits
Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change has called on the regulator to investigate the profits on domestic gas supply generated by the ‘Big Six’ energy companies.
Mr Davey says the average profit margin on gas supplies is three times the profit for electricity with British Gas recording 11.2 per cent and Scottish and Southern recording 11.4 per cent.
He also highlights that British Gas has 41 per cent of the UK domestic market. The excess profit could add up to £40 on the average bill and, in his letter, Ed Davey reminds the regulator and competition authorities that they have the power to “break up any companies found to have monopoly power to the detriment of the consumer.”
This intervention has an echo of the time I served on the bill which privatised British Gas. I warned then that privatising British Gas as a monopoly would fall foul of competition rules – which it did and apparently still does.
I also expressed my concern for all those living off the gas grid – as I do along with many Gordon residents. I said then there was little incentive to extend the gas grid and that has proved true – with only limited new links. There is also not enough done to help people off the grid find reliable and competitive alternatives although I still hope that new technologies will deliver a breakthrough.
Voting to protect children in cars from passive smoking
I am surprised that the modest amendment passed by the House of Lords to give ministers the power to introduce an order to ban smoking in cars when children are in the vehicle has aroused so much debate.
Some are setting it up as some kind of liberal totem. Yet I remember the same arguments were deployed when compulsory wearing of seat belts was introduced.
At its simplest, it is clear to me that passive smoking is dangerous to health – all the more so when it is in a confined space and imposed on children who are especially vulnerable to the effects.
Although the amendment and the bill only apply to England and Wales I nevertheless voted to keep the amendment – not least because I believe the same arguments apply to Scotland.
Be afraid of council review
The Scottish Parliament is about to carry out a review of local government in Scotland. Given the record of the SNP majority I would comment “be afraid; be very afraid.” This could turn out to be another part of the agenda to snuff out diversity and strangle consent.
The North East is reeling from the closure of police and fire control centres and the closure or reduction of hours at our police stations with no serious consultation or consideration of local circumstances.
By 2016, local authorities will have been subjected to 9 years of a council tax freeze. I appreciate this is popular but it means that more and more of the budget is under central direction and control.
The slogan attached to the Scottish Government logo that I find most offensive is the phrase, “One Scotland”, which appears to demand a bland uniformity, subject to centralised diktat.
The North East is different from the Highlands which contrast with the central belt or the Borders. Local knowledge and accountability is essential to respond to that and indeed celebrate it.
I would like the rights and responsibilities of local councils to be enshrined in law not plundered from above. Indeed, what is sad for me is that the argument put forward by the anti devolutionists when the Scottish Parliament was set up is now coming to fruition under the SNP – namely the sucking up of power and resources from local communities to a one party cabal of ministers and supine civil servants.
If we are not careful, the ability to claw them back could be snuffed out if this review takes a wrong turn.
This time the European elections really matter
With most of the political noise in the media focused on the referendum in September people could be forgiven for overlooking the fact that we have elections to the European Parliament in under 100 days on May 22 this year.
Traditionally turnout is low and voters take the view that it doesn’t matter who gets elected and generally are unaware of their MEPs.
Yet this time it really is important. The people who pump up resentment over the recession and that want Britain out of the EU appear to be on a roll.
If they are successful it will make UK led reform more difficult – especially as hostility to all things European is often vitriolic.