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Chancellor to challenge energy bosses to help customers cope with soaring bills

Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi (PA)
Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi (PA)

The Chancellor has claimed he will challenge energy bosses to do more to help their customers cope with soaring prices at a crunch meeting on Thursday.

Nadhim Zahawi acknowledged that more is needed to be done to help people with the spike in the cost of living ahead of winter, but suggested that rolling blackouts were unlikely.

Mr Zahawi and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng will ask gas and electricity utilities company executives to submit a breakdown of expected profits and payouts as well as investment plans for the next three years.

Analysts at Cornwall Insight have predicted bills are set to soar to around £3,582 in October, from £1,971 previously, before rising even further in the new year.

Leaked Government documents have warned a “reasonable worst-case scenario” could see outages for homes and businesses in January if there is a combination of below-average temperatures and a drop in gas imports, according to reports.

Mr Zahawi told reporters in Belfast: “I think it’s important we all get round the table, I will continue to do the work I need to do as Chancellor, but I also want to challenge them, to say are you making the investment? How can you help your customers? What more can we do together? That’s the reason for the meeting.”

He also said: “What I want to do tomorrow is understand better how they’re committed to that investment in gas, because whatever happens we need energy security and we’ve got a strong strategy that Kwasi and I will continue to push hard.

“The other area I want to look at is some of the energy producers, if you look at the renewable energy producers, the amount that they get paid is linked to gas prices.

“So, they haven’t changed anything they’re doing, they haven’t had any increase in their input costs at all, but they’re getting a much higher return because of the unusually high gas price because of Putin.

“I want to understand what they can do for their customers, what more they can do, because they’re clearly in a place now where they’re making very large profits because of that peg to the gas price.”

The Chancellor also said the Treasury has been preparing “options” for the next prime minister on what further support could be given to people this winter.

But he suggested he does not believe there will be blackouts due to preparations taking place for the winter, telling reporters: “As we did with the pandemic, we looked at reasonable worst-case scenarios, which were extreme, which never materialised.

“Why? Because we contingency plan for every outcome.”

Mr Zahawi said it would be “irresponsible” of a government not to look at all matters, adding: “It’s a responsible government that plans for these things, this is a difficult moment in our history, there is war on our continent.”

Boris Johnson resignation
James Cleverly, the Education Secretary (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Education Secretary James Cleverly earlier confirmed the meeting, telling ITV’s Good Morning Britain that it was a chance to “knock some heads together and basically hold them to account about what they’re going to do with those profits”.

Greg Jackson, founder of energy company Octopus Energy, suggested households are “safe” from possible blackouts this winter following news of the leaked documents.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think the reality is that domestic supply is safe and that industry, from time to time – sometimes driven by prices, by the way – voluntarily reduce their energy usage.

“So we have a terrible price crisis, but I think the UK is more fortunate than many of our European neighbours that we’ve got more resilient supply.”

Consumer champion Martin Lewis called on the two Conservative leadership candidates to set out how they will tackle the energy crisis to alleviate the “mental health damage” facing millions in the UK.

Tory leadership frontrunner Liz Truss hit out at “bizarre” proposals to agree support for rising energy bills with the Government and her rival Rishi Sunak before the contest is over.

Mr Lewis said: “I accept the point that Boris Johnson is running a zombie Government and can’t do much, but the two candidates – one of them will be our prime minister – they need to get together in the national interest to tell us the bare minimum of what they will do.

“What we need to hear now – because the mental health damage for millions of people who are panicked about this is manifest – is we need to hear accurate plans.””