The Way I See It

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THERE is an unforgettable scene from the epic movie, Spartacus, in which having defeated an army of slaves, a victorious Roman general calls for the beaten army’s survivors to hand over their leader – Spartacus.

If his demand is not carried out, the general promises his legions shall crucify each and every survivor. Bravely, Spartacus reveals himself and shouts the sping-tingling line “I am Spartacus.” Only for his loyal comrades to stand up and repeat his words, making it impossible for the Roman general to know who the real Spartacus is. True to his word, the merciless general executes the entire group.

The way three of the nation’s biggest energy providers announced their newest price increases over the last week reminded me of that moment in the film. Npower, SSE and British Gas, three of the big six energy companies, have all recently come out one behind the other in releasing dual-fuel price hikes. The other three – E.ON, EDF and Scottish Power – are expected to follow suit in the coming weeks.

But in keeping with the traditions of the movie, a recent poll of 7,000 people by AOL, found that 65 per cent believed the energy sector should be renationalised. This would ensure the demise of the energy firms’ profiteering and the end of policies originally enforced by Margaret Thatcher’s government in the eighties.

Knowing that they possess something everyone not only wants, but needs, the energy companies who control our electric and gas are under no illusions about the amount of power they hold. The problem is these firms are behaving like greed-crazed dictatorships. They are abusing the power bestowed on them by continually inflicting unnecessary suffering on British consumers – and all this despite making massive profits and chief executives receiving eye-watering wage increases.

What is defined as a free market is clearly not. The big six suppliers have a vice-like grip on the sector and privatisation has failed to create any competition, with the big six controlling a massive 96 per cent of energy in the market.

Experts have warned more and more people will be forced into fuel poverty by these unrealistic rises, and you would expect the government to stand up for the people it supposedly represents. Yet so far, Prime Minister David Cameron has simply urged consumers to shop around for a better deal. While Ed Davey, the energy secretary, has advised us to wear jumpers in order to keep our energy prices down. Hardly the response you would expect, but then again I don’t suppose either the Tory leader or Lib Dem member will be worrying to much about their own heating bills. Their attitude reeks of utter contempt and really shows just how out of touch this government is.

This winter, the reality for many people will be the agonising decision about whether to heat their homes or buy food. This is a truly appalling state of affairs in a country which is supposed to be the seventh wealthiest on the planet.

It is clear that OFGEM is a toothless regulator and indeed has already admitted it is powerless to stop the big six using money provided by consumers to pay for any fines imposed on them. I’m in the 65 per cent who believes the energy sector should be nationalised. This would give the power back to consumers and the government the ability to regulate prices – as well as subsidies staying in this country rather than France, Germany or Spain reaping the rewards.

Surely it would be a better alternative to the current scenario, a system in which the big six energy firms are exploiting an already vulnerable group of people, by inflating prices and turning consumers’ pockets inside out.

The Npower chief executive Paul Massara stated the obvious when he said that “the cheapest amount of energy is the amount which isn’t used”, but in the middle of winter, when the thermometer has dropped below zero and the elderly are at greater risk of catching hypothermia, not using any energy just isn’t an option.

– DARREN MURPHY