Energy Company Obligation — [Nadine Dorries in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:09 pm on 11th March 2014.

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Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change 4:09 pm, 11th March 2014

It is a pleasure, Ms Dorries, to serve under your chairmanship today. I congratulate Lilian Greenwood on securing this debate and creating an opportunity to discuss our policy on driving home energy efficiency in some of the most difficult to treat properties and some of our poorest and most vulnerable households. She and I may not always agree on the best mode of delivery, but I admire her tenacity on this issue.

I want to reiterate the point that I made in my earlier intervention. I am not in a position to offer guarantees or to spell out details today, but I had a positive conversation with the chief executive of Nottingham city council yesterday. I am pleased with the constructive way that they worked with my officials at the Department of Energy and Climate Change following the meetings that the hon. Lady helped to facilitate. The council is looking more positively at the green deal and working to submit a bid under the green deal for communities, and I look forward to announcing the result of those bids. I am glad to say that there has been a strong response from more than 80 local authorities. We have already announced the first tranche of street-by-street roll-out of the green deal and it is receiving a positive response.

I want to make a general point. The thorough retrofit of Britain’s housing stock is a challenge and is not easy. The hon. Member for Nottingham South and Tom Blenkinsop, who speaks from Labour’s Front Bench, are absolutely right. I am absolutely committed to the street-by-street roll-out. It is the engine for delivering whole-home retrofit in the most cost-effective way, but I am afraid that that was totally absent from the points raised by the Opposition. I commend them on their concern for the fuel-poor and the will to improve the housing stock of their constituents, but it is at best misinformed and at worst disingenuous to pretend that there is some bottomless pit of money when they represent the party that left us with the biggest peacetime deficit in our country’s history and brought us to the edge of financial ruin. What is more, during the last Parliament they drove up the number of fuel-poor people, which peaked in 2009—the last year of the Labour Government—at 5.5 million. Since then, on any measure, that number has fallen under the coalition Government and, according to the latest figures, it now stands at around 4.5 million.

It is wrong to suggest that energy efficiency is a universal panacea. I am a huge advocate of energy efficiency, but it is delivered at a cost, and it is not fair to deliver policy ambition on the backs of the fuel-poor. ECO is funded by consumers—every single customer. It is not funded by general taxation, and to some degree it is, like the CERT and carbon capture and storage programmes, which Labour introduced, regressive because it falls on the fuel-poor as much as the wealthy. It is unfair to disregard the cost of those programmes.

The coalition Government have acted clearly to reduce the cost of Labour’s levies on fuel bills to help to lighten the load of the fuel-poor and hard-pressed consumers. We removed from bills the cost of the £1 billion CCS programme, which the Leader of the Opposition introduced when he was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, and now fund it more fairly and equitably from general taxation. We removed from domestic bills the cost of the renewable heat incentive, the final part of the domestic scheme, which will be launched in the spring, to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds. Likewise, we responded to the escalating cost of ECO.

The Opposition must make a choice. Are they in favour of the £50 reduction in energy bills, or are they not? They owe it to their constituents and voters to make it very clear whether they will put those costs back on to energy bills. Are they saying that they would restore the ECO measures and in so doing drive up bills by at least £50 instead of freezing them? There are hard choices to make. Of course, we all want retrofit of the housing stock. I think we could all agree on the desirable measures, but they come at a cost and we must be fair to everyone and talk about how they will be funded.

It is true that it seems inequitable or unfair to cut the cost of ECO, which means that some people will wait longer for improvements to be installed, but bills will fall for millions of people. The improvements we are talking about will be installed in the homes of a few thousand people. We must be realistic. Progress was made under the last Labour Government, but they left millions of homes requiring substantial intervention to bring them up to what we would all regard as 21st century standards.