DUNCAN BARKES: Energy firms are the highwaymen of the age

Jack Upperton was a highwayman who in 1771 tried to rob the mail delivery coach that ran from Steyning to Portsmouth.

Thursday, 24th October 2013, 1:00 pm

He was caught and hanged at Blakehurst, a few miles east of Arundel – the location where his crime took place.

Jack paid the ultimate price for his attempt at daylight robbery.

Today’s energy companies, on the other hand, are getting away with it. And nobody seems prepared to challenge them.

As the cold weather starts to bite, many will struggle to cope with rising energy bills.

They face more misery as one of the UK’s leading utilities warns that environmental taxes are resulting in even higher prices.

In May, energy supplier SSE reported pre-tax profits of £1.4bn for the year to March, 2013.

This was an increase of nearly six per cent on the previous year.

SSE provoked outrage recently when it announced an 8.2 per cent increase in its gas and electricity prices. It has now warned customers that average household bills will be £26 a year more by 2015 because of the carbon price floor – an environmental tax.

Last week British Gas announced a whopping increase that received much media coverage.

The majority of suppliers are oblivious to, or simply don’t care, that rising bills, set against a backdrop of stagnating wages and an increased cost of living, will have a devastating effect.

Predictably, our political leaders are faffing around with no more than token gestures that do little to tackle a problem that is out of control.

Labour has promised a 20-month price freeze on energy bills if it wins the next election. To me this sounds like a feeble attempt at bribery. David Cameron has put the coalition’s energy subsidies under review – a move that can hardly be described as decisive.

Politicians who are suggesting that consumers simply switch suppliers? Sounds to me like they are too scared to take on the energy companies. It is appeasement in the worst possible form.

If you think this is an overreaction, then consider this: for the first time since the second world war, the Red Cross has announced it will collect and distribute food aid in Britain this winter. Pensioners’ groups say this is a direct result of many of our elderly population – the group hit hardest by price rises – having to make a decision to ‘heat or eat’.

This is a real crisis that needs drastic action.

Today’s energy suppliers are behaving no better than modern-day highwaymen, demanding money and leaving their victims with no choice.

It is time that they were properly held to account.