Brown faces multiple revolt over energy and tax policy

By staff writers
September 12, 2008

British PM Gordon Brown has annoyed pensioners, environment campaigners, trade unionists, anti-poverty activists and his own Labour backbenchers by refusing to impose a windfall tax on energy companies and give more support to the fuel-poor.

The Prime Minister unveiled his own measures earlier this week, saying they were a “better alternative” to a new tax on the sector because of its vast fortuitous profits.

But his £910 million energy aid package was criticised for not going far enough. MPs are planning to force a vote on the issue when Parliament returns from the summer recess next month.

Under Mr Brown’s plans pensioners and poorer households will get free cavity wall and loft insulation, and all households will be offered a 50 per cent discount on the work.

However the charity Help the Aged said the plans were “half-baked”, and unions said they did not go nearly far enough.

The PM also looks set to face renewed demands for an energy tax levy at Labour's annual conference at the end of September 2008.

Choosing instead to make energy companies to pay for most of a 1 billion pound energy saving plan, Brown hopes to bolster his flagging opinion poll ratings and combat calls to step down.

Until today he appeared to be succeeding on the latter front, but failing on the former.

Critics say the energy industry companies are arrogant and unaccountable. Such a view of the industry appeared to vindicated recently whe a senior executive at German energy firm E.ON was found to have said rising fuel prices with winter approaching would mean more money for the company.

E.ON immediately apologised and the remark was roundly condemned. But campaigners say they had 'let the cat out of the bag' after weeks of smooth talking PR to protect their interests.

The government's overall approach has upset advocacy group Help The Aged.

"This is a flimsy and failing package which does little to help older people struggling to cope with soaring fuel bills," it declared in a statement issued this week.

"[The] announcement devalues the word 'strategy'. Half-baked measures such as these are not going to address the social emergency of fuel poverty."

Help the Aged and environment campaigners Friends of the Earth are taking the government to court for failing to keep its pledge to eradicate fuel poverty.

It promised in 2000 to eradicate all fuel poverty in England by 2016 and for vulnerable groups by 2010. Despite this, fuel poverty is still increasing, the two groups said.

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