Tom's latest column for the Hamilton Advertiser on why the energy market needs reform (29 January 2015)
If ever there was proof that the energy market was not serving customers, it has been demonstrated in the recent response of the big companies
Over the last 18 months, and since Ed Miliband brought focus to an issue both UK and Edinburgh governments preferred to ignore, there has been more scrutiny than ever about the way the energy prices the companies pay get put into the bills we all pay for our power and heating. When the wholesale price goes up, so – very quickly - do our bills. When they come down – as they have done by at least 20% over the last 12 months – our bills tend to stay high. And this does not take account of the fact that for the larger companies, many of them generate the power they then sell to themselves and on to you and I.
The regulator was able to show that over that 12 months the profit margin of the suppliers had doubled – from 4% to 8%, but they were powerless to act. Under pressure – eventually – the first of the big 6 made a small reduction (3.5%). Over the next few days this week and last the rest followed, with similar small reductions. As ever, the devil was in the detail. Despite much electricity being produced from gas and coal (whose prices have fallen along with oil), it is only gas bills that have seen a reduction. And for all but one of the big 6 (Scottish Gas), they have more electricity than gas customers. And for many of the reductions, they will only take effect close to the end of the winter – after the increased profits will have been made at the time of year we use most power and heat.
All of this is the reason why we need the regulator to have the power to step in and force the big companies to pass on reductions to customers. We all need and use energy at home and at work, and so it is important there is fairness in the way the market works and that the regulator has real teeth. Those are policies which a Labour government elected in 100 days would put into place.
It is also about fairness to those people who work in the energy industry – last week in my role as shadow energy minister I visited one of the call centres run by an energy company. The people that often get the brunt of the frustration and lack of trust in energy companies are those at the end of the phones, or who are out in the vans. They have been let down just as much as the public, and are another reason why the market needs the type of overhaul Labour has proposed. With the current UK government disinterested, and the Edinburgh government reluctant to stand up to Scottish based big corporate interests, it is one more reason why we need a UK Labour government in office as soon as possible.
Being in opposition, it is not every day you force the government to concede and accept your policy. But that is what happened twice over the past couple of weeks on the controversial subject of shale gas. Firstly, the government accepted my amendment to stop changes to underground drilling permission applying in Scotland until it is devolved under the terms of the all-party Smith Agreement. This means only the Scottish government can now change those rules – and along with the always devolved planning and environmental permitting powers, the SNP have the power to block any fracking if they want to. Labour have said we would do so in Scotland until having learned the lessons from elsewhere in the UK, and with a local vote at the end so communities have the final say. This week as well I forced the government, facing defeat, to accept our 13 protections which have to be in place before fracking can happen in the UK. This is much stronger than a short term pause with no conditions, and gives safeguards previously missing from the regulations. It also leaves the space open for the Scottish government to take a decision as they see fit – rather than playing the diversionary game of pretending it is down to Westminster, when they have the power now.
Tom's latest column for the Hamilton Advertiser on why the energy market needs reform (29 January 2015) If ever there was proof that the energy market was not serving customers,...
Tom's latest column for the Rutherglen Reformer on Pauline Cafferkey's welcome recovery from ebola and the importance of the NHS. (28 January 2015)
Sometimes, perhaps not often enough, there is good news to be celebrated. At the weekend the welcome news that Pauline Cafferkey had pulled through in her fight against ebola was a real boost to her friends, colleagues and those whose families she has cared for.
To see the very moving interview that Pauline gave to the BBC about her experience and her fightback against a terrible disease (that the best medical minds are still learning about), and her smiling face on the front page of many of the Sunday newspapers, meant the weekend news began with some good news. Being in a radio studio early in the morning, including at weekends, is part and parcel of the job of an MP from time to time – but doing so to talk about Pauline’s recovery was a very pleasant task.
Over the past few weeks, and as the news of her infection broke, I have spoken to many constituents both in Cambuslang and in Blantyre where she works who expressed their concern and support for Pauline and the hope she would pull through. When her condition worsened to critical, and then stabilised, it was striking just how many people had also told me of their admiration for the work she was doing as one of the UK NHS volunteers in Sierra Leone.
As was clear from the interview she gave, Pauline is a courageous woman who fought back from a very debilitating condition, with the best treatment on offer in the NHS at the Royal Free Hospital in London. Whether it was the irn-bru or listening to the Archers that helped give her the fortitude, everybody is delighted that she has now been discharged from hospital and getting back to her family and friends. I am sure too that she will want some privacy as she recovers fully and gets back to her normal life in our area, but she will do so knowing that for many, many people she is a real example of heroism.
It is inevitable that the NHS will be in focus over the next 100-odd days in the lead up to the general election. It is right that there is focus on the huge pressure on local accident & emergency services and the decisions of the Scottish government and local health boards, and it is also right that we will debate how proceeds of the mansion tax that will be introduced if Labour forms the next government will be used to support the NHS and increase the number of nurses in our stretched health service. But that does not mean that we shouldn't recognise the heroes in the NHS, such as the team caring for and treating Pauline Cafferkey at the Royal Free Hospital.
It is one of the best features of the NHS is that its scale – which while sometimes the cause of frustration with elements of bureaucracy – means that across the UK we have some very specialist healthcare workers. In the case of ebola, the treatment available at the Royal Free is not only the best in the UK but very likely world-leading too. The NHS is an incredible institution, which is not only internationally regarded but also highly valued by the vast majority of the population. While there may be frustrations from time to time, it is highly rated, deserving of respect and should be cherished and nurtured for the future to ensure across the UK we can go on providing excellent care for a range of conditions. With a viral condition as highly contagious as ebola, no recognised and certified vaccine or dedicated drugs, and a very challenging condition to treat- that world leading care could have helped make the difference between a tragic story and the very good news we heard on Saturday evening.
Tom's latest column for the Rutherglen Reformer on Pauline Cafferkey's welcome recovery from ebola and the importance of the NHS. (28 January 2015) Sometimes, perhaps not often enough, there is...
Tom Greatrex MP has signed the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Book of Commitment, in doing so pledging his commitment to Holocaust Memorial Day and honouring those who were murdered during the Holocaust as well as paying tribute to the extraordinary Holocaust survivors who work tirelessly to educate young people.
Tuesday 27th January will mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, the site of the largest mass murder in history.
In the weeks leading up to and after Holocaust Memorial Day, thousands of commemorative events will be arranged by schools, faith groups and community organisations across the country, remembering all the victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides.
After signing the Book of Commitment, Tom Greatrex MP commented:
“Holocaust Memorial Day marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau – and is an important opportunity to remember the victims and survivors of the Holocaust and make sure they are not forgotten. I encourage all constituents to mark the day and to join in the fight against prejudice and intolerance.”
Karen Pollock MBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said:
“We are proud that Tom Greatrex is supporting Holocaust Memorial Day. As we mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust and the liberation of the concentration camps in 2015, it is vitally important that we both continue to remember and learn from the appalling events of the Holocaust – as well as ensuring that we continue to challenge antisemitism and all forms of bigotry.
Tom Greatrex MP has signed the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Book of Commitment, in doing so pledging his commitment to Holocaust Memorial Day and honouring those who were murdered during the...