Caroline Flint – Speech to 2013 Labour Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Caroline Flint to the 2013 Labour Party Conference in Brighton.

Conference,

Margaret is 88.

Lives on her own.

Hard of hearing and finds it difficult having conversations on the phone.

In five months, her monthly electricity bill jumped from £45 to £67.

She couldn’t afford the new payments, so a debt built up.

Her energy company wanted it to be repaid in full.

Margaret has never been in debt before.

Frightened – she turned her heating off.

Embarrassed that her flat was too cold, Margaret stopped inviting friends over too.

Nicola is 32.

She’s a mum, with two kids.

Both her and her husband work.

But after a few cold winters, the gap between what Nicola could afford and her bills left her in debt, too.

Now, she’s worried about what will happen if prices rise again this winter.

David Cameron and George Osborne say the economy is fixed but for people like Margaret and Nicola, things are getting harder, not easier.

They’re at least now getting some help from the National Energy Action charity.

But millions more face the same problems and worse.

Unfolding day-by-day in kitchens and living rooms, in every town and every village – North, South, East and West, is a cost of living crisis.

Of course, the worst off are the hardest hit.

But everyone’s living standards are under attack.

People who always thought themselves “comfortable”, now feel under pressure.

Now, the slightest misfortune – a broken boiler, a faulty fridge, or another inflation-busting rise in their energy bills, can mean real hardship.

So if ever there was a time for action over energy prices it is now.

But what is this Government doing?

Have they taken our advice over the last year?

Will they put all those over 75 on the cheapest tariff this winter?

Did they sit up and listen when we revealed that energy companies have seen their profits soar while ordinary people’s bills have rocketed?

No, support for people struggling to pay their bills has been cut in half.

The Prime Minister promised that energy companies will have to give their customers the cheapest tariff.

A year later, four out of five people still on the wrong deal, paying more than they need to.

And what about the big promise to insulate homes and save us all money? The Green Deal.

It was meant to be the biggest home improvement programme since World War Two.

Ministers said they’d be having sleepless nights if 10,000 people hadn’t signed up by this Christmas.

They’ve spent £16 million promoting this scheme so far.

But just 12 households have had any work done.

£16 million for 12 homes.

Only nine thousand nine hundred and eighty eight to go. They won’t be getting much shut eye this year.

This Government, complacent over soaring bills.

Indifferent to people’s struggles.

Always standing up for the wrong people.

It doesn’t have to be like this…

Imagine if a certain beer company was your energy supplier?

You know who I mean.

They’d ring up one day and say “the wholesale price has fallen, so we’re going to cut your bill today”.

A few weeks later, they’d ring you again “we’re really sorry you’ve overpaid us, we’re refunding the money today”.

They’d ring you up a few weeks after that and say “we’ve got to own up, we’re not the cheapest supplier to you, so we’re cutting your tariff today to make sure we are.”

Conference, we’d all raise a glass to that.

But it’s not like that is it?

Half a dozen companies, squeezing out competition, setting prices in secret, and never telling you if you’re getting a rotten deal.

Prices rising year after year, followed by record-breaking profits.

Conference, it’s not right.

We all joined the Labour Party to fight injustice

And this is one injustice Ed Miliband and I won’t stand for.

Now is the time for politicians that are bold enough to argue for big changes in our energy market.

Today, I promise with a Labour Government the most radical, comprehensive reforms since energy privatisation.

No more price setting in secret.

The energy companies will be forced to open their books.

And do all their electricity trading on the open market, in a pool.

A single place, in public, for everyone who wants to buy or sell power.

No more secret price setting. No more back room deals.

The days where a company generates energy, sells it to themselves… and then sells it to us…

Those days will end.

But that’s just the start.

Have you ever wondered how it is that whatever world energy prices, whatever our bills are, somehow the energy companies always manage to make bigger and bigger profits?

Conference, let me spell it out.

If they own the power station and sell the electricity to themselves, what’s the incentive to keep their prices down, if all it does is reduce their profits?

So Conference, today I pledge, we will break up the Big Six.

The power stations will be separated from the companies that send you your bill.

Just as the banks will have to separate their investment and trading arms from the high street branches, so we will make the energy companies separate their production from the companies that supply your home.

And let me say one more thing about the bills you will receive…

Under Labour, on every bill you will see one standing charge and one unit price.

Simple.

Straightforward.

Easy to compare. Easy to switch.

Conference, ultimately, our best protection against volatile world energy prices is to save the energy that escapes through our windows, walls and rooftops.

And invest in home-grown British clean energy.

Around these small islands that make up Britain, from the Shetlands to Southampton, we must invest in the low-carbon energies that will power our country for a new industrial age.

And I say to every nation in our great country, we invest in energy together, we share the risks, we share the rewards.

We are stronger, together.

And to the Tory backwoodsmen, understand this: clean energy is not the enemy, climate change is.

So in government, we will set a clear course to clean up our power system.

To keep our country safe and secure, we will establish a new dedicated Energy Security Board, to identify our energy needs, secure investment for the future and keep the lights on.

And I promise we will end the disastrous decline in new jobs and industries under David Cameron.

I want Britain at the forefront of change, building a cleaner economy, creating the jobs our nation needs.

Conference, together, we can build a better Britain.

A Britain where the energy we share is secure, affordable and clean.

A Britain where Margaret, and millions like her, can warm their homes without fearing the bill.

A Britain to which we all truly belong.

For the many, not the few.

A Britain built by Labour.