Energy Bill and the Big Society: A battle to come?
There's an interesting micro-battle brewing over the Energy Bill. The Bill's a worthy measure allowing people to make energy-saving improvements to their homes - new boilers, better insulation etc - and pay for it out of the resulting savings to their gas and electricity bills. It is what ministers have branded as "the Green Deal".
But in the detailed Committee Stage consideration last week, Luciana Berger (a Co-operative MP and Labour frontbencher) put down a series of amendments designed to help cooperatives and mutual societies offering insulation and other improvements to become players in the market, including reduced registration fees for non-profit organisations. She and other MPs argued that the idea is very much in the spirit of the Big Society to help small business and social enterprises and that there was a danger of the market for Green Deal energy improvements being dominated by a few corporate big boys.
As she put it: "Concern has been expressed by several organisations, including the Builders Merchants Federation, that the green deal as it stands relies too heavily on big corporate names and favours vertically integrated businesses that will dominate the marketplace from the outset with a one-stop-shop approach. Retailers and the energy companies dominating the marketplace could jeopardise the green deal's likelihood of success for two reasons: first, it would drive down competition and increase prices for customers; secondly, the suppliers that are least trusted by consumers would be the main drivers of the scheme."
The minister, Greg Barker, was not convinced and the proposal was voted down - but I wouldn't be too startled if the idea resurfaced when the Bill returns to the full House of Commons for its Report and Third Reading stages, not least because Labour think the Coalition is voting against its own Big Society philosophy and they'd quite like to force them to do so again.