Sparks fly as Labour and Tories battle over soaring energy bills

Labour leader Ed Miliband launches the new Labour energy policy with a speech at Manchester Town Hall
Labour leader Ed Miliband launches the new Labour energy policy with a speech at Manchester Town Hall
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The political row over energy bills raged on yesterday as Labour and the Tories battled to persuade voters they could control rising costs.

Ed Miliband is pledging to end the energy “rip-off” as he details proposals for reforming markets but Prime Minister David Cameron continued to claim Labour’s plans were a con.

It comes as Government sources denied reports that the big six energy firms are being urged by the Government to hold prices until the middle of 2015.

Speaking from Vilnius in Lithuania where he is attending a summit, Mr Cameron said: “I want to help households and families by getting sustainably low energy prices.

“Now, the only way you can do that is by increasing competition and eroding the costs of some of the levies on people’s bills.

“I said that’s what we were going to do, that is what we are going to do and I think that’s a very positive step forward.

“That’s a world away from making a vague promise about something you might do in 20 months’ time with no idea about how you are going to do it.

“That is a con. What we are dealing with is real policy that can make a real difference.”

Industry sources had told the BBC that government had asked them to try to avoid another round of price rises, barring any big increase in wholesale fuel costs.

But a Downing Street source said: “This story is utterly misleading. The Government has not asked for a price freeze. People should wait for us to announce our plans.”

At a regular Westminster briefing, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The Government has not asked for a price freeze.”

Asked why energy companies might have had the impression they were being asked to keep bills down, he replied: “The Prime Minister, the Government, other ministers have been clear that we want to see cost pressures going down and not up when it comes to energy bills, we’ve been very clear about that.

“Given that we are looking at rolling back the cost of some of the levies the only surprise would be if we weren’t in discussions with the energy companies.”

Mr Miliband accused Mr Cameron of being a “weak and flailing Prime Minister”.

He said: “What we now know is that while David Cameron has in public been opposing an energy price freeze, in private he has been pleading with the energy companies to get him off the hook.

“This is a weak and flailing Prime Minister.

“What Britain needs is Labour’s strong, credible plan that we’re publishing today to freeze energy prices until 2017 and reform a broken energy market so it properly works for business and families.”

Energy UK chief executive Angela Knight told the Today programme: “What has been quite clear for some time is that there are some substantial increasing costs that are coming through on to household bills which are outside the control of the companies, and such things as the environment and social levies are of concern.

“If you look at an average energy bill, only about half of it is energy. Then it’s made up of other things such as getting that energy to your house, there’s the levies that come through on to the bills, there’s some tax in there as well.

“The only piece that actually sits within the control of the energy company themselves is the 18 per cent to 20 per cent of the bill for operating costs and so forth.”

Ms Knight said that energy companies were operating in a “pretty competitive market” adding: “If you look at the actual profits of the retailers, the profits they make are pretty modest.”

Comment: Page 16.