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Big Six: Bad Six

The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves

Greg Barker, ex-MP for Bexhill & Battle, former Government Minister and the man charged with delivering the Coalition’s Government’s Green Deal programme know who he is blaming for the programme’s relative failure.

Not DECC. Not the Treasury. Not himself.

No, the blame, according to an interview that Barker gave to The Independent lies firmly with the Big Six energy companies. Eh?

Yes, indeed, Barker, maintains that, had the six large gas and electricity companies put the full force of their, er, energy behind the programme then it would have been a resounding success.

Yeah, right.

Barker, the former Tory energy minister, launched the Green Deal at the start of 2013, saying he would be having “sleepless nights” if 10,000 households hadn’t signed up for a loan for home energy-efficiency upgrades by the end of the year. Two and a half years later, the number of households with Green Deal-financed measures in place has yet to reach 10,000, says the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

The latest figures show that 7,817 households had “live” Green Deal plans at the end of April (ie, the work has been done), with the number rising to 10,354 when work-in-progress is included.

Barker told the Independent: ‘I expected them to come forward with a comprehensive package for their millions of customers and the bottom line is they haven’t’

In a sense, I can see where he’s coming from. Bear with me on this, fellow cynics. Had the system been set up in a different way, then perhaps it would have worked fine, with the full support of the Big Six.

Imagine this scenario: Energy company A goes to 3, Acacia Avenue, Dullsville, works out how much insulation or upgrading is required to bring it to whatever standard is deemed appropriate. They agree with the householder/bill payer that this work should be carried out because of the energy benefits it would bring. The energy company then does the work – or contracts out to one of the many thousands of installation companies or heating and plumbing engineers – and recoups the cost via a levy on the household energy bill. A levy that the householder probably doesn’t even notice as the insulation improvements have made the house so m much cheaper to run anyway.

Assuming, and it is, I admit, a big assumption, that the bulk of that insulation or heating equipment is purchased via the merchant sector then everyone – everyone, is a winner.

That, my friends, is a scenario in which the Green Deal would have worked and I would not have had to be so snippy and cynical about it.

Alas, someone somewhere, probably in the Treasury, decide that ‘the market’ had to have an influence and decided that householders had to have the final say on who carried out the work, lest they be ripped off by unscrupulous tradesmen. Also, presumably to avoid accusations of closed shops, there had to be an open market in terms of who could provide the finance, lest the Big Six keep all the bounty for themselves (this is probably a not unfounded fear. See CERT etc);

The programme in its final incarnation was overly complicated, relying on installers and installation companies jumping through onerous, time-consuming, expensive hoops to get the correct certification. It was also overly expensive in terms of the loan itself, carrying an APR double that easily available on the High Street.

Then we had the situation where, having realised that they would need to throw money at the programme to encourage take-up, the Government found itself overwhelmed by the speed at which the vouchers were bought up as the money ran out in a matter of days. It’s never actually been proved, but I’m still pretty sure that most of those vouchers were hoovered up by speculative cold-calling companies.

Anyway, all this is probably by-the-by since Elmer Fudd, sorry, Amber Rudd, Barker’s replacement at DECC has hinted that, the age of austerity still being upon us, Government largesse on energy efficiency programmes might be slipping away.

Hey ho. Only another four years and 11 months to go.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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