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Energy Efficiency

Volume 568: debated on Thursday 17 October 2013

For the first time ever, the UK now has a national energy efficiency strategy. This is something no Government have put in place before. Helping to cut energy bills is at the heart of this drive through the green deal, energy company obligation, electricity market reform, smart meter roll-out and support for innovation, research and development. They all demonstrate the Government’s determination to drive unprecedented investment into energy efficiency.

I think that just 25 people have benefited from the green deal in my constituency so far, but thousands of people across Stockton-on-Tees could have warmer homes thanks to a tremendous project to externally clad their homes run by the borough council and deliverer partner, Go Warm. This has attracted £20 million of investment and 300 jobs. Sadly, a legal judgment means that BT is the only company that can remove the eyelets that support the wires in the houses that are benefiting from the scheme. This is slowing the programme down because of insufficient resources to do the work in a reasonable time. Will the Minister please intervene, tell BT to get its act together, get the work done more quickly and give my constituents the warmth they deserve?

The hon. Gentleman raises a legitimate point about BT. I will certainly look at this in more detail and would be happy to meet him to discuss it. We want to press ahead. We have an ambitious efficiency programme, which is led by the energy company obligation. We believe that through a combination of the ECO and the green deal, nearly 250,000 people will have seen their homes improve by Christmas.

Fuel poverty is increasing, but the amount of money spent on energy efficiency programmes directed at the fuel poor has decreased by 50% since 2010. Is it not time that the Minister changed his priorities?

The hon. Lady seems to be confusing the record of the coalition with that of the last Government. During the last Parliament, fuel poverty rose in every single year; under the coalition, it has fallen in every year. [Interruption.] The definition has not been changed yet. It will be changed next year, on a cross-party basis.

We still have a great deal to do, but this Government are rolling up their sleeves and making a difference, unlike the last Government. They had the chance to deal with fuel poverty, but it rose in every single year of the last Parliament.

The Government forecast that the green deal and the energy company obligation would create 60,000 jobs, but earlier this year the Insulation Industry Forum confirmed that more than 4,000 jobs had been lost during the transition to the ECO. Just the other week, Carillion, a leading green deal provider, was forced to announce a restructuring that is expected to lead to further job losses in the green deal sector. That is a disaster for the workers who are affected, for their families, and for our low-carbon industry. Can the Minister confirm the number of people who have lost their jobs since the scheme was launched, and can he explain why this is happening?

We are certainly seeing a change in the industry, and we expect to see a structural change. New companies are now entering the market. The growth that we are seeing is not in the big energy companies created by the last Labour Government, but in the small and medium-sized enterprises, the independents and entrepreneurs who are being championed by the coalition. The ECO is helping more than 215,000 households, and we expect it—in combination with other measures—to enable nearly a quarter of a million homes to benefit from insulation, and from a range of new products that were not available before, by the end of the year.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that fuel poverty would be worsened if the cost of the capital required for the billions of pounds of new investment rose because of heightened political risk associated with the United Kingdom? Indeed, is that not exactly what the Leader of the Opposition has achieved? Surely his comments will make fuel poverty worse.

My hon. Friend, who has huge experience in these matters, is absolutely right. Labour’s policy would scorch investment. According to an analysis by Cornwall Energy, which leads the monthly forum for independent energy companies, Labour’s policy is “wrong”, and

“based on imperfect information, flawed assumptions and emotion, which will cost the consumer dearly. There are at least five significant problems with it.”

Labour’s policy would indeed have an impact on the cost of capital and on investment, and consumers—particularly vulnerable consumers—would be left to pick up the pieces.

A report by Anna Walker did a huge amount to improve energy and water efficiency. What are the Government doing to educate people, and to advise them not to heat water beyond what they use and to become more energy and water-efficient?

Any green deal assessment will feature a number of recommendations. We have found that people are very pleased with their assessments. More than 80,000 people have had a green deal survey, and 81% said that as a result of a survey they had taken action, would be taking action or were currently taking action, while 72% said that they were recommending the green deal to their friends. It is still early days, but the green deal, with its range of measures from handy tips to big structural changes in homes, is the way forward.

I have been contacted by a pensioner constituent whose annual heating bill is £700. He lives in a terraced house in the middle of Kettering with a solid wall that requires external insulation and rendering. He has been in touch with 17 local companies, and has been told that he must pay between £4,000 and £15,000 to get the work done and that the green deal is not available to help with that type of work. Can the Minister please advise?

That is very puzzling, because the ECO, which is designed to complement the green deal, has exactly that sort of consumer in mind. I should be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss his constituent and see how we can help.

During the passage of the Energy Bill I raised with the Minister the way that the Government’s policy on simplifying tariffs is resulting in some customers paying more. Ofgem’s recommendation of the reintroduction of standing charges is resulting in some customers who are energy-efficient, increasing, rather than lowering, their bills. That cannot be right. Why cannot the Government look into it?

I am sorry, but I did not catch all of the hon. Gentleman’s question. He raises a serious point, however, and I will be very happy to talk to him in more detail about our tariff plans. This is a Government who are taking real action to simplify tariffs, to get on the side of the consumer and to deliver better value for money after years of inactivity and inaction under the last Labour Government.

Because this Government will not stand up to the energy companies, Ministers in other Departments are clearly eyeing up the ECO scheme that funds energy-saving measures as a short-term, although counter-productive, way to reduce bills, but is not the poor running of the ECO scheme by Ministers what has made it so vulnerable? It is too bureaucratic, it is not geographically focused and it does not prioritise the genuinely fuel-poor. What is the Minister going to do to sort it out?

First, may I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post? I am not sure whether he is the 10th or 11th member of the Labour party I have had opposite me on the Labour Front-Bench, but I hope he has a long stay on the Opposition Front-Bench—a very long stay indeed.

The hon. Gentleman’s criticisms of the ECO are misplaced. I am not saying it is perfect, and as we go forward we will always look to improve the scheme, but, as I said earlier, we anticipate that between 215,000 and 230,000 homes will be helped by the ECO by Christmas this year—that is nearly a quarter of a million families benefiting from warmer homes and cheaper bills. I will be very happy to organise a briefing for the hon. Gentleman, so next time he can, perhaps, come to questions a little better prepped.