Editorials praise Brown’s energy package
Unions and energy watchdogs lashed out at Gordon Brown’s aid package aimed at helping householders cope with soaring energy bills, saying it was “too little, too late”. Even pensioners’ charities gave a frosty response.
But newspaper editorials on the whole were supportive, describing it as “bold politics. More importantly, it was good policy”, as The Times said.
It may not have delivered on the pre-hype, but the editorials blame the government for bumping up the publicity in a desperate attempt to boost its poor showing in the opinion polls.
But the government resisted the temptation to impose a windfall tax on big power companies — a target on so-called excess profits.
Instead, the utility companies have been persuaded to invest 910 million pounds in helping householders pay the cost of insulating their homes.
The editorials said the government was right to resist pressure from Labour MPs and unions to impose a tax.
“In recent months, the government has often changed its tax plans under pressure,” the FT observed. “Not this time. It has been right to resist a windfall levy so far. It should continue to do so.”
The Guardian said: “Despite the chorus of carping, there was much to welcome in the devilish detail of the plans.
“Each of the biggest power firms has been forced to contribute an extra 50 million pounds to energy-saving funds.”
It added: “Much in energy policy is prosaic. A battered government in need of a political fix will not get much joy from publicising and planning the lagging of lofts. That does not stop it being a sensible thing to do. Minutiae it may be, but it matters.”
The Daily Mail believed a windfall tax would have distorted the market and driven big business abroad.
The FT suggested it would have eroded confidence over the fiscal structure’s stability and would have raised the prospect of further levies.
There were fears the companies would pass the cost on to customers, but the leader writers hoped regulator Ofgem would deal with any industry malpractice.
The Times looked at how they could be rewarded for their social contribution, and suggested tradable carbon permits could serve this purpose, as could allowing them to keep the proceeds of any efficiencies they achieved.
The Daily Mail, in a rare show of support for Brown, supported his “wise” decision not to give large-scale handouts to people to help with fuel bills.
“Isn’t it better to offer every family the chance to cut their bills permanently, by fitting better insulation, than to hand over a one-off voucher for 100 pounds, as was suggested?” it asked.
The energy efficiency measure would pay for itself within three years, though the Guardian pointed out that many would suffer during this time and would continue to do so afterwards.
“Asking someone who is already cold to shiver their way through another three winters before the lagging arrives is not an acceptable policy,” it said.
“And even after the insulation arrives, the millions of hard-up households who have neither lofts to lag nor wall cavities to fill will still feel short-changed.”
It also said the country now faced a shortage of loft laggers.
The government gained “brownie” points for its green credentials. The country’s housing stock is among the least fuel-efficient in Europe, the FT pointed out, and reducing waste is critical to cutting emission of greenhouse gases.
The Times backed the view: “It sends a vital signal that efficiency must be at the heart of any sound energy policy, not the fringe.”