Energy Company Obligation — [Nadine Dorries in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:57 pm on 11th March 2014.

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Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Shadow Minister (Energy and Climate Change) 3:57 pm, 11th March 2014

I completely disagree. We could and should have a lengthy debate about energy companies overcharging as that issue is obviously there—people can see that and our policy is designed to rectify it. That makes the changes to ECO even more illogical. The Government have reacted to our policy, which is sensible and which a lot of people like a great deal, by trying to cut back on energy efficiency, to try to claim that energy bills will be cheaper. If the Government are serious about lowering bills, surely the obvious way to do that is to continue with energy efficiency measures. It is illogical for them to cut back on efficiency to claim that they are saving people money on their energy bills.

In the time available I will address two further points. My next point is about the impact the changes to ECO will have on jobs. The impact assessment predicts that there will be between 7,000 and 14,000 fewer jobs as a result of the changes. That has already begun to happen and a lot of companies have already contacted me about the measures they have had to take. In particular, apprenticeships have suffered a great deal—that is certainly the case in Nottingham. When I visited a scheme there, the apprentice I saw was working on his own property—a marvellous bit of PR from the scheme, but it was brilliant to see such work taking place. Those people should have lengthy careers ahead of them, given the amount of work we need done by the industry they have gone into. For them to miss out or lose their jobs because of Government changes to policy is extremely unfair. So far, the Government have not acknowledged the impact on jobs at all, despite the fact that the impact assessment does. I hope the Minister will comment on that.

The changes severely reduce the Government’s commitment to tackling fuel poverty. When CERO was predominantly concerned with delivering solid-wall and other hard-to-treat measures, the funding would naturally have gone to low-income areas, in particular social housing estates built at a certain time to certain construction standards. However, now that low-cost measures are to be included, will the Minister say what safeguards will be put in place to make sure that the funding does not go to households that could afford to pay? That would be incredibly disappointing, given that one of the already disappointing features of ECO was its modest ambitions for reducing fuel poverty.

The Government are simply not ambitious enough about energy efficiency. The energy companies know that the Government will not hold them to account for failing to meet their obligations. I note in particular that whereas before the changes a fine could be levied on energy companies for failing to meet their targets, they will now no longer face a fine, but simply a rule-based system for increasing targets. It seems that the energy companies will be let off the hook again.

The changes to ECO are poorly judged and fatally undermine much of the original purpose of the policy. I do not accept or understand the Government’s claim that they will lead to a bill reduction of £35. The changes will have severe ramifications for the green deal. The failure of the green deal and ECO to dovetail as they were intended to—their “limited blending”, as the impact assessment puts it—serves only to highlight that further. The Government have again caved in to the energy companies when instead they should be rectifying the serious problems in our energy market, and ensuring that we meet the challenge of improving the UK’s dreadfully insulated housing stock.

The people losing out from this decision by the Government, whether in Nottingham or Southampton, or the other examples given by hon. Members today, are often those who need help the most, and who have been told they were going to receive it, only to learn that the Government have let them down again. The figures are stark: 14,000 lost jobs, 440,000 fewer homes insulated and 2.2 million tonnes in carbon savings forgone. The ECO is this Government’s policy, the changes are this Government’s changes, and the consequences, be they in lost jobs, work that now will not take place or the decimation of the solid-wall supply chain, are also the responsibility of this Government. Ministers have got it badly wrong. They need to accept that and think again.