THE question of energy is dominating the news this week.
We had the Government announcement of a new nuclear power station to be built in Hinckley, Somerset.
I think this is a welcome step – nuclear is not the full solution but has to be part of the energy mix.
It should also mean it is more likely that Hartlepool will get a replacement power station, meaning well-paid jobs in the construction and running of the station and the companies that supply it.
However, the other big news was not so positive.
On Monday, npower announced that it was putting up its prices on December 1 by 9.3 per cent for electricity and 11 per cent for gas.
This is in the wake of other energy companies also announcing whopping price increases as the cold weather kicks in – SSE by 8.2 per cent and British Gas by 9.2 per cent.
I think the timing of the npower increase is particularly cruel.
December 1 is traditionally the start of the Christmas season and many kids will be looking forward to opening the first door on their advent calendars.
Their mams and dads might not be feeling so full of the festive feeling, given these enormous rises; the npower increase will add about £140 to the average bill for customers paying on direct debit.
Of course, some people in Hartlepool are not on direct debit and will probably pay even more.
This Christmas, there will be families and households not thinking about which present to buy – they’ll be thinking about which room to heat.
Sir John Major, the former Prime Minister – and indeed, the last Conservative leader to win a General Election, over 20 years ago – doesn’t often enter the political fray these days.
However, he has done this week over the energy prices. Sir John has rightly said that it is unacceptable for energy companies to be raising their prices by up to 10 per cent.
He has said, quite rightly, in language that will resonate with many people in Hartlepool, that these price rises, coupled with rises in prices elsewhere and low wage growth – or often no wages at all – will leave some people with a choice between eating and heating their homes in the event of a cold winter.
He praised Ed Miliband by saying Ed’s identification of high energy bills as a top priority showed his “heart is in the right place”.
I do think the Government is floundering over this issue. They look as if they are protecting and defending the energy companies over these huge price increases at a time when people are struggling to pay the bills now, let alone bills that will be ten per cent higher over a cold winter.
The Government has confirmed, in the light of Sir John Major’s comments, that there are no plans to impose a windfall tax on the excess profits of the energy companies – Sir John’s idea – or freezing energy prices until 2017 and sort out better competition and regulation in the energy market – Ed Miliband’s idea.
Indeed, there doesn’t really seem to be any positive response from the Government to assist people struggling with the massive increase to their cost of living.
I hope that the Government does bring forward something to ease the pressure on energy bills. Otherwise it will be a cold, bleak, long and expensive winter for many people in Hartlepool.