Thursday, 19 January 2012

Clock watching

Over the last few years, our seasons seem to have gone all awry. I had some begonias still flowering in December, yet spring bulbs are bursting into flower already.

Although seasonal temperatures have been confusing, daylight hours have remained unchanged. Currently, we set our clocks to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) in winter, and GMT+1 in summer. Of course, we don’t enjoy putting our clocks forward, but we love the extra hour when we put them back.

I’m backing a campaign called Lighter Later. It has the support of MPs from all parties and from a huge group of organizations – from sport to road safety associations, and from tourism to pensioners’ groups.

Basically, Lighter Later is asking the government to objectively investigate the benefits of moving Britain’s clocks forward one hour throughout the year. So, instead of the current arrangements, we would have GMT+1 in winter and GMT+2 in summer. This would mean that more people are up and about in daylight hours than is the case now.

An extra hour of light is more valuable in the evenings than in the mornings – not least because most people sleep through the first hour of sunlight for much of the year.

There has been lots of research about the impact of various ways of setting our clocks during the year. Moving the clocks forward throughout the year is estimated, among other things, to:

  • Save 80 lives each year and prevent hundreds of serious injuries by making the roads safer – also saving the NHS about £138m each year
  • Create an extra 60-80,000 jobs in leisure and tourism
  • Cut nearly 500,000 tons of CO” pollution
  • Lower our electricity bills
  • Reduce crime and the fear of crime

Lighter Later is campaigning for a three-year trial in which the clocks in Great Britain shift forward by one hour throughout the year. You can find out more information at Tell me what you think. 

Monday, 16 January 2012

All fuelled up

When global fuel prices rise, our gas and electricity bills go up like a rocket; when they come down, our bills fall like a feather. Last week’s headline grabbing ‘British Gas cuts prices by 5%’ hid the reality that BG wasn’t cutting gas prices at all, just electricity prices. And, that cut only applied to some customers; for many, there was no cut at all.

The cost of a typical dual fuel bill is now £1,345 – a 48% increase since 2007; in plain English, that’s £9 a week. Standard tariffs rose by £175 between June and November last year alone.

The number of households in debt to their electricity supplier has increased by more than 25% to 850,000. The number of gas customers in the red has also risen by 20% to more than 700,000. Many families will be in debt on both accounts.

Yet, the ‘big six’ energy companies are enjoying record profits. This is because, between 2007 and 2011, they have more than doubled the gap between wholesale (what they buy at) and retail (what they sell at) prices. And, the executives and directors of the energy companies have enjoyed massive pay hikes at our expense.

Before the General Election, David Cameron said that claims that the Tories would cut the winter fuel allowance were “lies” and that if the Conservatives won the election they would “protect” it.

But, as energy bills have rocketed, the Conservative-led government has cut Winter Fuel Payments, cut the Warm Front programme – insulating homes – by 70%, and is replacing the social tariffs with the poorly designed Warm Home Discount, which will leave millions without support this winter.

It’s time to stand up against the powerful vested interests in the energy industry. We need:
  • an investigation into the mis-selling of energy, and compensation for consumers who have been ripped off
  • simple tariffs – people should automatically be on the cheapest applicable tariff
  • transparency on trading data – full openness about what they pay and what they charge
  • reform of the energy market – it’s clear there is no real competition
  • to use the soaring profits to help families and businesses with rising energy bills now.