Brian Monteith: Light is on but nobody’s home

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IF THERE is one thing that will kill the electoral prospects of the coalition government it is how it allows political correctness to get in the way of the economic recovery and therefore the alleviation of poverty that all politicians claim they wish to see.

There is nothing like people having productive jobs to help an economy grow – it’s so obvious it hardly needs to be said. Not only does the earner have money to spend on necessities, and hopefully something to spare after paying all the bills, it means the welfare bill should come down, meaning government receipts rise and spending falls – helping restore the nation’s finances so the annual deficit becomes a surplus and that huge mountain of debt can be tackled.

That’s the theory, and it should be working, but if there’s one obvious reason it’s not it is the cost of energy in Britain, which is far too expensive and is set to get even more expensive still.

Although income tax thresholds have risen and council tax has been frozen – not just in Scotland but across the UK, too – the cost of heating and lighting has soared. The number of people in fuel poverty – that’s those who spend more than ten per cent of their income on energy costs – has rocketed and this means they have less disposable income to create demand for goods and services that help the economy grow.

Likewise for businesses, the growing cost of energy is placing an upwards pressure on prices and making British goods more uncompetitive compared with other countries. That’s another brake in the drive to make the economy grow.

Even though we have an abundance of energy resources and just when we need cheap energy the most, our political parties have conspired to ensure it is expensive and likely to get worse.

The reason I write about this issue this week is because a few days ago the country was given yet another warning of the real danger that we shall be facing blackouts when our demand outstrips the supply. The energy regulator Ofgem has been making such warnings since 2009 as the date with darkness looms closer.

It takes me back to the early 1970s when, thanks to industrial action by militant trade unions, the nation was plunged into darkness. There was a run on candles for emergency lighting, paraffin heaters were dusted down and brought out of retirement, and there was a minor baby boom the following year as couples had retired early for the night to keep warm.

One can laugh about it now for it was some 40 years ago, but at least it was relatively short-lived, being the result of opportunistic strike action that could eventually be overcome.

No such luck this time, for the reason the increase in energy prices and the threat of power cuts is real is because the previous Labour government ordered the closure of dirty coal-fired power stations without putting anything in their place. We will face power shortages starting sometime between 2015 and 2018, but the new nuclear power stations that the coalition has ordered are not expected to arrive until 2020.

Instead, great faith has been invested in wind power, but that has proven unreliable and costly. The Conservatives are keen to exploit shale gas, as has been done in America where energy costs have been falling and the reliance on imports is becoming a thing of the past, but the Liberal Democrats are against it, so progress is too slow to help make a difference quickly.

This leaves us with the sole remaining option of relying on imported gas to fuel our power stations just at a time when those gas prices will rise and, of course, putting us at the mercy of temperamental regimes like Putin’s Russia.

It could all have been different of course. Had Labour’s energy minister, a certain Ed Miliband, not acted so rashly without having reliable alternative power available, we would not be facing the threat of power cuts.

Likewise, had those politicians that signed up to the fraud perpetrated on the public of wind turbines our electricity bills would be lower.

Likewise, had the new coalition government been less concerned about carrying on with the wind turbine subsidies that go to wealthy landowners and have to be paid for by higher electricity tariffs, we would have cheaper bills and less likelihood of them going up.

Meanwhile, in China and India new coal-fired power stations are opening every month as they seek to meet the demands of their expanding economies, while other countries such as South Africa do the same.

Over the last five years I have worked in many countries where power cuts were the norm. Britain now faces being no better than those poor developing nations.

Our politicians have taken us for fools, they have put our bills up, subsidised the wealthy at the expense of the poor and we are now skirting the danger of power cuts.

We need to extend the working life of old power stations until new ones are available – if it means a European fine, surcharge the politicians. Ed Miliband can afford it.