Kevin Daly: Heating bill rises will bring cold comfort to vulnerable
MILLIONS of folk will doubtless be rubbing their hands together a lot this winter in a desperate bid to keep warm. The owners of the gas and electricity companies will also be rubbing their hands – though not in desperation, more in gleeful self-congratulation, having upped their energy prices for the umpteenth time in recent years.
And, as usual, no one in power (political power, that is) seems able to do a single thing about it. Pull on a jumper, says a spokesperson for David Cameron – who is also quoted as describing this week's 9.2 per cent price hike by British Gas as "disappointing".
Disappointing? Is that all he thinks it is? Getting caught in the rain, missing the bus – those things are "disappointing". Risking the lives of the elderly and the vulnerable merit much stronger terminology: how about "shocking", "shameful" or "outrageous", Prime Minister?
As for telling us to wear a jumper to help survive the latest round of crippling energy price hikes – don't they think we already know that? I'm wearing three right now and it's only October. Such a patronising comment simply proves what little help we can expect from the ruling classes in tough times; it may even worsen the situation – what if the jumper manufacturers decide to leap on the bandwagon and raise their prices too?
Yet another one of those government "let them eat cake" moments, a typically trite observation when what we really wanted to hear was a full-throated roar of condemnation.
Fact: in three years of Coalition rule the average consumer's bills have soared by more than £300 (that's before the latest price increase), earning the big six suppliers £3.3 billion in pre-tax profits.
Conjecture: those same big six – who provide 98 per cent of our energy needs – are perilously close to breaking the law, aren't they? Operating a cartel in which there is a complicit agreement to control pricing rates is illegal within the EU. While such an agreement between the big energy companies may not exist, there does appear to be some consensus that when one outfit does it, the others will follow. That is certainly implicit, and it's been happening this way for years.
Can anything be done about it? Short of re-nationalising the gas and electricity industry, it seems doubtful. And there's little comfort to be had from complaining to the regulator – Ofgem is actually funded by the energy giants. So any rational person must conclude that prices are unlikely to fall any time soon. Especially not now we've just signed an agreement with the French to build Britain's next power station, giving them full licence to sell much of our energy back to us at twice the market rate over the next 35 years.
But hey, let's not be too gloomy. After all, in making us all too frightened to switch on the heating this winter, no one is doing more than the energy giants to reduce global warming.
The Prime Minister hasn't got the monopoly on advice, either. I've told my Aunt Madge not just to wear a jumper, but to save all her British Gas bill reminders from now on. She'll be needing something to burn this winter.
A NEW survey by the Dental Health Foundation suggests half of all adults are afraid of the dentist. Including me.
After a simple check-up recently I needed a visit to the nearest hostelry to calm my nerves. Someone at the bar remarked, "You've been to the dentist, haven't you?"
Shocked, I asked how he knew. He pointed to the sticker on my lapel, the one that read: "I was brave today."
IT'S desperately sad to see a popular children's play organisation which has been running in Frome for 25 years forced to close through lack of funding.
Frome Association of Holiday Activities was clearly a godsend for those parents who worked during school holidays.
When it comes to funding cuts, child activity schemes seem to bear the brunt. Could it be because children don't have the vote?