Bullied by the NHS, cancer patient who complained about his treatment online
Bureaucratic animals at work
A cancer patient who wrote an online diary highlighting failings in his hospital care has been threatened with legal action by a ‘bullying’ NHS trust.
Retired publican Daniel Sencier, 59, was so worried about delays and damaging administrative problems at his local hospital that he arranged to have surgery for his prostate cancer in another part of the country.
Following his successful operation Mr Sencier campaigned for improvements at Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle because he wanted to help other patients. He lodged a formal complaint and an internal inquiry resulted in an eight-point ‘action plan’ to improve procedures.
But instead of apologising to Mr Sencier, NHS bosses have hired lawyers with orders to clamp down on his blog. A letter sent by solicitors Ward Hadaway, acting for North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, warned him: ‘The Trust will monitor the content of your blog and if it contains information that is not factually correct or which contains unsubstantiated criticism of the care you received at the Trust, the Trust will have no hesitation in considering taking legal action against you.’
Mr Sencier and his supporters were planning a demonstration outside the hospital, but legal action has been threatened over that too.
The father of five said he was appalled that health service managers would rather spend ‘thousands of pounds’ to pursue him than put into effect the low-cost measures to improve patient-doctor communication he has called for.
‘They are trying to scare me,’ he said last night. ‘But I got into this to improve the level of service at the hospital and I have got to fight rather than shrink away from it.’
Mr Sencier, of Penrith, Cumbria, said his GP picked up on signs of cancer during a routine examination and referred him to the Cumberland Infirmary. A biopsy on June 18, 2010, confirmed he had prostate cancer.
He needed to be transferred to a hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne for surgery but he endured delay after delay and feared the lack of treatment could cost him his life. ‘I was simply forgotten,’ he said. ‘I was frantic and ill with worry. I thought I was dying.
‘After about three months I researched on the internet and it was clear patients in other hospitals with my condition were being seen and treated pretty fast.’
Mr Sencier told a ‘white lie’ about having local family support to get a referral to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. His first appointment was on November 1 and surgery was carried out three weeks later, five months after diagnosis.
He credits Addenbrooke’s with saving his life and so far the cancer has not returned.
Mr Sencier said he spoke to many other cancer patients at Carlisle who were unhappy with the hospital and was determined to pursue the matter to help them. He said: ‘The medical people at the hospital are competent but the system is at fault, nothing is joined up. There is a dangerous lack of administrative efficiency.’
Mr Sencier said he started writing his daily blog at the suggestion of his daughter and it became a ‘crutch’ to support him through his ordeal. He insisted he would continue with the online campaign despite the legal threats. A spokesman for the NHS Trust refused to comment.
Tens of thousands of migrants will be barred from settling in the UK under Government plans to be ‘more selective’
Tens of thousands of migrants will be asked to leave the UK under Government plans to clamp down on those abusing temporary visas to stay permanently. Immigration Minister Damian Green says Britain will be ‘more selective about who we allow to stay’ as immigration has hit record levels last year.
Mr Green has told MPs a clearer distinction was needed between temporary and permanent routes into the UK to ensure migrants do not take advantage of loopholes.
The number of people granted settlement in the UK reached an all-time high in the 12 months to last September, up 35 per cent from the previous year to 238,950 – the highest level since records began in 1960. ‘We intend to break the automatic link between coming to the UK to work and settling here permanently,’ Mr Green said.
Skilled workers coming to the UK from outside the EU, predominantly as a means of filling short-term skills shortages, ‘should expect to leave the UK after a maximum of five years in the UK’, he added. ‘In future, only a tightly controlled minority will be permitted to stay permanently, where it is in the interests of the UK to do so.’
The Government is also considering bringing in an English language requirement for dependants of migrants who wish to settle in the UK.
And domestic workers coming to stay in diplomatic households as servants could be limited to just six or 12 months, while visas for domestic workers in private households could be scrapped altogether. ‘This would oblige those wanting domestic workers to recruit instead from the UK labour market, with the rights and protections that affords,’ Mr Green said.
The current system, which enables domestic workers to stay for up to six years and then apply for settlement, is ‘exceptionally generous, and sits ill with an immigration system focused on meeting identified skill shortages and securing the brightest and best migrants’, Mr Green added.
Temporary workers could also be restricted to 12-month stays ‘to reinforce the temporary nature of the route’. They could also been banned from bringing their dependants, or have their dependants’ ability to work restricted.
Dr Adam Marshall, director of policy and external affairs at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: ‘Britain’s migration system must protect our economy as well as our borders. ‘Turfing out valuable migrant workers who are turned down for settlement would be incredibly disruptive to companies of all sizes, and to the UK’s economic recovery. ‘These proposals could also deter some skilled workers from coming to the UK in the first place.’
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of campaign group MigrationWatch UK, said the proposals were ‘excellent news’. ‘There will now be a real incentive for employers to train British workers rather than continue to take skilled foreign workers ‘off the shelf’ so as to avoid training costs,’ he said.
Shadow home office minister Shabana Mahmood said Labour backed reform of the settlement regime. But she warned that changes would only be effective ‘if they are backed up by strong and consistent enforcement of the rules’ and highlighted recent critical reports of the UK Border Agency.
‘On top of this, the Government has imposed a 20% cut on the UKBA budget, which will mean the loss of over 5,000 jobs,’ she said. ‘It is inevitable that enforcement will suffer as a result.
‘The Government needs to be straight with the public. ‘Its key pledge on immigration – to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands by 2015 – is in disarray, and they have once again failed to explain to the public how this will be achieved. ‘The Government talks tough on immigration, but it is clear that it is failing to deliver.’
British bigotry about red hair
To understand this story you have to know that redheads are discriminated against in England. To my knowledge that does not happen in other countries. Redheads in Australia are often addresses as “Blue” or “Bluey” but there is no animus attached to it. My late father was a redhead and I have twice married redheads so I know a bit about it.
My father had the sterotypical fiery redhead temper and was very ready with his fists if insulted. He was often addressed as “Blue”. Nobody would have dared to do that if the term had been derogatory in Australia
FAST food pizza chain Domino’s has apologised to schoolboy after calling him the “Ginger Kid”.
Ross Wajgtknecht, 11, visited his local branch with friends and gave his full name when ordering a Texas BBQ pizza. But when he came to collect his food he was horrified to discover that staff had written “Ginger Kid” in place of his name on his receipt
Ross said: “I was really sad. I get bullied at school about my hair but you don’t expect it from an adult. “After I read it I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and brought the packet home because I wanted to show my mum.”
Ross, who is in his final year at Peasedown St John Primary School, took the receipt home to his parents Evette, 43, and Andrew, 45, who demanded an apology from the outlet. Mr Wajgtknecht, a builder, said: “It is totally disgusting. You would not describe someone by the colour of their skin or by calling them fat so why is it OK to call Ross ginger? “Surely it would have been easier to write Ross. That only has four letters. Why write Ginger Kid instead?
“It is prejudice. They offered him a free pizza but the damage has already been done and he doesn’t want to go back in case it happens again.”
He said Ross had received taunts over his hair colour throughout his life and had burst into tears after being referred to as the “Ginger Kid”.
Mrs Wajgtknecht added: “He is usually quite a strong and confident lad who doesn’t let comments upset him but reading that has really knocked him. “At the end of the day what we want to do is raise awareness of how this can upset people.”
Ross, who has three older brothers, Toby, 20, Josh, 18 and Jack, 14, bought the pizza on May 28 from the Midsomer Norton branch of Domino’s after an afternoon at the skate park with his friends.
Manager Pat Bennet said: “It was for the benefit of the person who took the order, it wasn’t meant to cause offence. “I have apologised to the family over the phone and the member of staff concerned has written an apology to the boy. We will ensure nothing like this happens again.
“A problem we often face is children giving us fake names to confuse orders, we often have a groups of young people come in and all give the same name, then they get abusive if we give the wrong order to the wrong person.”
Ross, who plays for league-winning Peasedown St John Athletic under 11s, said he took strength from his hero, recently retired Manchester United star Paul Scholes. He said: “A lot of my friends call me Scholesy and I don’t mind that.”
Ross’s parents are now demanding a full apology from Domino’s head office.
A Royal realist
Discriminating against the old is right, says His Royal Highness, Prince Philip on the eve of his 90th birthday celebrations
Prince Philip has said that he favours discrimination against older people because ‘you go downhill’ later in life.
In an interview recorded ahead of his 90th birthday today, the notoriously outspoken prince says he is reducing his own workload before he reaches his ‘sell-by date’.
The Duke of Edinburgh, who has been the Queen’s constant public companion for more than 60 years and is involved with around 800 charities and organisations, says he is looking forward to ‘winding down’ and enjoying himself.
Prince Philip told interviewer Fiona Bruce that he is ‘just winding down’ He even claimed he was losing his memory and struggled to remember the names of people he was due to meet.
‘There is an ageism in this country, as everywhere, and quite rightly so, because I think you go downhill – physically, mentally and everything,’ he said.
In a wide-ranging interview to mark his birthday, broadcast on BBC1 last night, Philip discusses his life, work and interests over the past nine decades.
Last autumn it was announced how the Duke was lightening his obligations by relinquishing his attachment to a number of his more demanding organisations including his patronage of UK Athletics, City and Guilds of London Institute, the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth and his involvement with a number of high-profile universities.
But Prince Edward, also interviewed for the documentary, believed his father remained just as busy. ‘He keeps on saying he’s trying to slow down and take on less but I haven’t seen much evidence of that, he seems to fill the gaps with lots of other things, which is fantastic,’ he said.
‘The fact he’s still got that fascination and interest and energy is superb.’
But Philip stressed that it was time for him to take a back seat. ‘You don’t really want nonagenarians as heads of organisations which are trying to do something useful,’ he said.
More than 5,000 British schools face special measures under crackdown by regulator
Up to 5,300 schools with below average test results could be failed by Ofsted unless they show improvement, it has been revealed. It will mean they are placed in the special measures category or given a notice to improve.
The only exceptions will be where they are ‘improving steadily and closing the gap with the national average for all pupils’.
The tougher inspection regime is being piloted this term in 150 schools and will be introduced across the country in January. An inspectors’ guide to the watchdog’s latest framework, which has been seen by the Times Educational Supplement, shows it will pay more attention to pupil attainment and levels of progress.
Schools could be hit if their results for a particular category of pupil – such as boys or children in care – are below average and not enough improvement is being made. The pressure on schools with below average scores appears to go beyond those seen as ‘coasting’, and takes in any that are not improving faster than the national rate.
Of the state primaries with Sats results last year, 3,883 – 39 per cent – were below the national average on the percentage of pupils achieving level four in English and maths. And 1,486 state secondaries – 48.6 per cent – were below average on the main five A* to C GCSE measure, including English and maths.
The guidance for inspectors shows that any of these schools not deemed to be ‘closing the gap’ will be given an ‘inadequate’ grade for achievement, which leads to an overall ‘inadequate’ rating.
Schools that are judged ‘inadequate’ are given either a notice to improve – where specific changes that have to be made – or put in special measures, which can lead to the head teacher or governing body being replaced and even closure.
The document states a condition of getting a ‘satisfactory’ grade or above in achievement is that ‘where attainment is below average overall, or below average for any group, it is improving steadily and therefore closing the gap with the national average for all pupils’.
William Parker School in Daventry, Northamptonshire, meets the GCSE target, but will fail its Ofsted inspection next year under the guidelines, unless it significantly improves its results this summer. Head teacher Jason Brook is responding by reluctantly introducing vocational BTEC qualifications to push up scores.
He told the TES: ‘Judging on national averages is crass and blunt. They need to take account of schools’ individual circumstances. ‘We were delivering the curriculum that we knew was right. But I can’t afford to do that any longer. I have got to join the game.’
Brian Lightman, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘What we don’t want is more perverse incentives to play the league tables. ‘Inspections should be looking at the overall quality of education.’
Russell Hobby, of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: ‘If a school achieves great progress with pupils that come in with low attainment then they are doing a remarkable job, even if the final results are below the national average.’
An Ofsted spokesman said it would ‘carefully consider’ the views of schools and inspectors following the pilot schemes, before publishing the framework in September. ‘Inspectors rightly look to see the difference the school is making for pupils so that they make progress from their starting points on arrival in school,’ he added. ‘For children and young people to succeed, this progress must be satisfactory at least, and should often be good or better.’
RUMBLINGS OF CLIMATE DISSENT IN BRITAIN AS GOVERNMENT POLICIES IMPOVERISH THE NATION
Three articles below
It’s time the British Government grew up over climate change, says Nigel Lawson
The Coalition’s obsession with climate change is damaging Britain’s recovery from recession, former Tory chancellor Nigel Lawson warns today
Writing in the Daily Mail, Lord Lawson delivers a scathing assessment of David Cameron’s so-called ‘green agenda’ and says it is ‘time this Government grew up’. Lord Lawson, one of the most respected Tory figures of recent decades, accuses the Prime Minister of risking Britain’s economy to make a ‘symbolic’ point.
In a devastating verdict he writes: ‘The Government’s highly damaging decarbonisation policy, enshrined in the absurd Climate Change Act, does not have a leg to stand on. It is intended, at massive cost, to be symbolic: To make good David Cameron’s ambition to make his administration “the greenest government ever”.
His comments came after former Civil Service chief Lord Turnbull accused ministers and officials of pandering to global warming ‘alarmists’ and piling huge, unnecessary costs on ordinary families.
Lord Lawson, Chancellor under Margaret Thatcher, goes further today, saying that plastering Britain with wind farms will push up bills to families and businesses without producing any real benefits. The switch to ‘low-carbon’ energy is expected to add £200 to annual energy bills. He writes: ‘This price increase would be economically damaging at the best of times; and these are not the best of times.’
And he warns the harm to business could be greater still, adding: ‘The economy is already recovering from the recession. ‘However, there is indeed a threat to that recovery and the bitter irony is that this is of the Government’s own making. ‘It is its so-called climate change policy of ‘decarbonising’ the British economy.’
He says it is ‘highly uncertain’ that higher carbon emissions will warm the planet to a dangerous extent and warns it is ‘futile folly’ for Britain to act alone when its emissions are two per cent of the global total.
Last weekend, some 52 (for the most part little known) economists signed a letter to the Observer newspaper calling on the Government to retreat from its commendably firm determination to reduce substantially, during the lifetime of this Parliament, the appalling budget deficit it inherited.
I am reminded of my own time as a Treasury Minister when, in March 1981, no fewer than 364 (rather better known) economists signed a letter to the Times claiming that ‘present policies will deepen the recession, erode the industrial base of our economy and threaten its social and political stability’ and should be abandoned forthwith. In fact, from that moment, the economy embarked on eight years of uninterrupted growth.
I have no doubt that Chancellor George Osborne will, rightly, ignore the bad advice of the 52, just as we did of the 364. And indeed the International Monetary Fund has sensibly encouraged him to stand firm.
The economy is already recovering, slowly but incontrovertibly, from the recession. However, there is a threat to that recovery — and the bitter irony is that this is of the Government’s own making.
It is not the very necessary reduction and eventual elimination of the budget deficit. It is the Government’s so-called climate-change policy of ‘decarbonising’ the British economy — the replacement of carbon-based energy with substantially more expensive non-carbon energy, in particular wind power.
The ostensible purpose of this policy is to prevent what is customarily described as catastrophic global warming. Now, there are at least two major problems with this.
The first, as more and more eminent scientists are finding the courage to point out (the most recent being the distinguished physicist Professor William Happer of Princeton University), is that it is far from clear that there is a serious problem — let alone a catastrophic one — of global warming at all.
My think-tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, has just published a devastating analysis by the former Head of the Civil Service, Lord Turnbull, demanding that politicians ‘stop frightening us and our children’ about the threat of global warming. He calls on Whitehall and ministers to consider the damaging economic impact of blindly following the ‘climate-change agenda’.
While it is scientifically established that increased emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from the use of carbon-based energy, such as coal, oil and gas, can be expected to warm the planet, it is uncertain how great any such warming would be, and how much harm, if any, it would do.
The second major problem with the British Government’s policy is that even if it were thought to be desirable to cut back drastically on carbon emissions, this can have an effect only if it is done globally. For the UK, responsible for 2 per cent of global emissions, to go it alone is futile folly.
And the complete failure of the UN-sponsored environment jamborees — in Cancun last year and Copenhagen the year before — to achieve a global decarbonisation agreement clearly shows that this is not happening and, in my judgment, is not going to happen.
China, the biggest global emitter, has made it clear that it will not accept any restraint on its use of carbon-based energy, as has India. (The annual increase in China’s emissions, incidentally, is greater than the UK’s total emissions.) And the U.S., the second-largest emitter, has made it clear that without China and India on board, there is no prospect of the U.S. signing up to anything.
The plain fact is that the world relies on carbon-based energy simply because it is by far the cheapest available source of energy and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.
The major developing countries, in particular, are understandably unwilling to hold back their development and condemn their people to avoidable poverty, by moving from relatively cheap energy to relatively expensive energy.
Yet this is precisely what the present UK Government is committed to. Alone in the world, we have on our statute book a Climate Change Act. This commits us, unilaterally, to a legally binding process which is already well under way. And eventually — by 2050 — we will have near-total decarbonisation, by switching to an ever more expensive mix of ‘green’ energy sources.
To achieve this, the Government has introduced a range of measures, notably the renewables obligation, which requires electricity suppliers to buy a proportion of their power from renewable sources, chiefly wind power, at huge cost, which is then loaded onto all electricity bills.
Then there are the so-called feed-in tariffs, under which a greatly inflated price is paid to wind-farm owners and others who supply renewable energy to the grid — and again loaded onto our electricity bills.
On top of this, there are a number of other price-inflating measures, such as the so-called ‘carbon floor price’ (a commitment to ensure that the price of conventional energy stays high and goes higher, by means of a government levy on firms generating electricity based on the amount of CO2 they produce), which are yet to take effect.
What is doubly unacceptable, however, is that the public is being made to pay for this by stealth. This is why, in the cause of proper transparency, our electricity suppliers should be made to reveal in our utility bills the extent of this hidden tax element, which is costing families an average of £200 more a year.
This price increase would be economically damaging at the best of times; and these are not the best of times. And the damage is all the more serious when other countries are not doing the same.
In recent weeks, spokesmen for both the Engineering Employers’ Federation and the Energy Intensive Users’ Group have warned of investment and jobs going overseas, where energy costs are lower.
They have been joined by spokesmen for the chemical industry and the UK head of Tata Steel (Britain’s largest steelmaker, the former British Steel), which has already announced substantial lay-offs in the UK, partly for this reason. And this week the CBI, at long last, voiced its deep concern.
It is curious, to say the least, that a government that came to power saying it wished to rebalance the economy to rely less on financial services and more on manufacturing should be determined to impose the most anti-manufacturing energy policy of any government in British history.
This policy, incidentally, will also greatly exacerbate the problem of ‘fuel poverty’ (officially defined as the number of people who are obliged to spend more than 10 per cent of their household income on fuel), as the charity Age UK has pointed out.
The Government needs all the political support it can get to carry through its economic policies. Its disastrous ‘green’ energy policy can only undermine that support.
The Coalition likes to boast, as did its Labour predecessor which initiated this damaging policy, that the UK is the only country in the world to impose severe and legally binding carbon reduction requirements on its economy.
While this claim is well-founded, ministers might do well to ask themselves why the UK is the only country to do this. The answer, of course, is that no other country has the slightest intention of incurring such pointless and self-inflicted economic harm.
The answer, my friend, ain’t blowing’ in the wind
Following the revelation that we’re all paying a secret stealth tax to subsidise so-called renewable energy sources, it seems like a good time to check out exactly what we are getting for our money.
At midday yesterday, wind power was contributing just 2.2 per cent of all the electricity in the National Grid. You might think that’s a pretty poor return on the billions of pounds spent already on Britain’s standing army of windmills.
But it’s actually a significant improvement on the last time I checked the wholesale electricity industry’s official website. At the turn of the year, the figure was 1.6 per cent. During the cold snap the turbines had to be heated to stop them freezing and were actually consuming more electricity than they generated.
Worth it? Wind power contributes just 2.2 per cent to the overall electricity of the National Grid
Worth it? Wind power contributes just 2.2 per cent to the overall electricity of the National Grid
Even on a good day, they rarely work above a quarter of their theoretical capacity. And in high winds they have to be turned off altogether to prevent damage. Britain’s 3,426 wind turbines produce no more electricity than a single, medium-sized gas-fired power station.
Any sane individual would conclude that wind generation is hopelessly inefficient and horribly expensive and stop throwing good money after bad. But when did sanity ever have anything to do with government policy?
Ministers are planning to install another 12,500 of these worse-than-useless windmills, some of them up to three times the size of existing monstrosities.
We are paying for all this through hidden charges which now make up a fifth of all gas and electricity bills. The average household has to fork out an extra £200 a year.
That’s because the Government forces energy companies to buy from renewable sources, which are far more expensive than conventional power stations. The cost is then passed on to the consumer.
Ministers know there would be an outcry if they raised taxes to pay for windmills, so they hide the subsidies in our gas and electricity bills and hope the energy companies get the blame.
Scottish Power has just announced it is increasing gas prices by 19 per cent and electricity by 10 per cent. Although there is little the companies can do about rising world commodity prices, our bills are being artificially inflated as a direct result of the Government’s insane ‘climate change’ policies.
At a time when the price of everything from petrol to basic foodstuffs is going through the roof, it is outrageous that ministers are piling on the misery by forcing all of us to pay well over the odds for domestic fuel.
Here’s how crazy it is.
Earlier this year the National Grid was forced to pay £900,000 compensation to the owners of six wind farms which were forced to close down one especially gusty night — because they were producing too much electricity and there was no capacity to store it.
So they’re either producing little or no electricity, or else have to be switched off because they’re producing too much. Either way, we pay.
It’s not just windmills, either. Farmers are being offered £50,000 to cover their fields with solar panels, which are useless when the sun don’t shine. Given that we are told we could soon be facing food shortages, you might have thought it would make sense to encourage farmers to grow crops.
But with a guaranteed annual return far higher than if he grew wheat, you can’t blame Farmer Giles for concluding it’s not worth getting his hands dirty and taking the money. Lavish subsidies for renewable energy schemes are also making some of the country’s richest landowners even richer at the taxpayers’ expense.
Meanwhile, manufacturing industry faces a 70 per cent increase in its fuel bills — regardless of the level of world energy prices — because of a reckless levy on carbon emissions imposed by the Coalition’s tame racing driver. Some say he ran off with a lapsed lesbian and that he persuaded his ex-wife to take the rap for a speeding offence. All we know is: he’s called Chris Huhne.
The Lib Dem Energy Secretary epitomises the political establishment’s obsession with ‘man-made global warming’. Climate change has given them a catch-all excuse to grab more power and raise taxes.
Don’t take my word for it. Tony Blair’s former Cabinet Secretary, Lord Turnbull, has condemned MPs and civil servants for punishing hard-working families and jeopardising economic growth in the name of saving the polar bears.
He said: ‘We need more open-mindedness, more rationality, less emotion and less religiosity and an end to the alarmist propaganda and to attempts to frighten us and our children.’ Amen to that.
Why should Britain have the world’s toughest targets for cutting carbon emissions, especially when China is opening a new coal-fired power station every week? Meeting those targets will take £13 billion a year out of the economy.
Why should British householders, uniquely, be forced to pay higher gas and electricity bills to disfigure our green-and-pleasant with hideous War Of The Worlds windmills, simply so politicians like Huhne can preen themselves at international ‘global warming’ conferences?
It is suicidal to load unnecessary financial burdens on British businesses, which are trying to compete with cut-price Chinese products produced in factories powered by cheap electricity.
It’s not even as if there are tens of thousands of jobs being created in Britain by the ‘green economy’. The wind turbines are all built and installed by foreign firms. British taxpayers are subsidising companies in Germany, Spain and Japan.
My wife recently went for lunch in a Norfolk hotel which was overrun with Scandinavian technicians, living high on the hog, plonking offshore wind farms in the Wash and the North Sea.
Politicians are putting our economic recovery at risk by posturing over ‘global warming’ and dragging their feet over the obvious and urgent solution of building more clean, safe nuclear power stations.
Because of this madness, Britain faces the very real prospect of rolling power cuts in the not-too-distant, as our older generation of power stations come to the end of their lives.
Stuff the polar bears. Unless the politicians get a grip, sky-high gas and electricity bills will be the least of our worries.
The REAL reason fuel bills are going through the roof? Crackpot green taxes you’re never even told about
Scottish Power has understandably provoked howls of protests after announcing plans to raise its gas price by a thumping 19 per cent and its electricity tariffs by an inflation-busting 10 per cent.
And over the next few days and weeks, I am sure its main competitors will announce similar price hikes — leaving Britain’s unhappy householders facing annual power bills some £200 higher than they were a year ago.
Of course, the power companies will offer the normal excuses. Media-trained chief executives will point to increases in wholesale power prices, which have gone up by about 25 per cent since last winter. And no doubt one or two will blame increased demand from Japan in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami last March.
But none of them, I’ll wager, will mention one of the biggest reasons why our power bills only ever seem to be heading up and up and why — regardless of what’s happening in the wholesale energy market — they could easily have doubled by 2020.
Spurred by the Government’s stubborn but wrong-headed commitment to renewable energy, so-called green stealth taxes are already adding 15-20 per cent to the average domestic power bill and even more to business users. And yet, despite the growing cost of these taxes, you won’t find any mention of them at all on your gas and electricity bills.
That, of course, suits the Government down to the ground. If it raised the huge sums required to encourage renewable energy and limit carbon emissions through general taxation it would make the Government itself very unpopular. But by doing it through electricity and gas bills, the Government has cleverly ensured that it’s the power companies that take the blame.
So, what should be appearing on our power bills? First is the so-called Renewables Obligation, which currently requires power companies to buy 11 per cent of their power from renewable resources.
The problem is that renewable energy — most of which comes from on- and off-shore wind farms, solar panels and biomass plants (power stations fuelled by wood chippings and agricultural matter) — is between three and five times more expensive than power from conventional sources such as coal or gas.
So by obliging power companies to buy this more expensive renewable energy — and latest estimate suggests off-shore wind-farms could be up to ten times more expensive — the Renewables Obligation already starts to inflate our power bills.
Sadly, however, it doesn’t stop there. Next is the European Emission Trading Scheme, which requires all energy-intensive companies to off-set their emissions with so-called carbon credits — permits which allow companies to emit a specific amount of waste. At the moment, these are free, but they won’t be for much longer, with new measures due to come into force next year — another reason why our power bills are heading only one way.
The Carbon Emissions Reduction Commitment, which requires energy suppliers to invest in expensive technology to reduce their carbon emissions, also does nothing to help.
Then, at least for corporate customers, there is the Climate Change Levy, which effectively taxes businesses, companies and public bodies on the energy they use. So when added to the other climate change taxes, the average British business is already facing a power bill some 20-25 per cent higher than it should be.
But unfortunately it’s not going to stop at that. The Treasury itself already admits that scheduled increases in the Climate Change Levy will see business power bills increasing by 70 per cent by 2020, regardless of what happens in the wholesale market. Outside observers, however, believe the bills will double.
And that’s before the Carbon Floor Price — the controversial measure introduced by Chris Huhne in March — comes into effect in 2013. By charging power companies and heavy industry for their CO2 emissions (at £16 per tonne, rising to £30 per tonne in 2020), the Chancellor has admitted that the aim is to make power derived from fossil fuels deliberately more expensive, making both nuclear power and renewable energy look more competitive.
And yet he’s done this at a time when Britain has reserves of fossil fuels for years to come, in the shape of coal, gas from shale and, of course, North Sea Oil, which may be in decline but is nowhere near to running out. And yet businesses all over Britain will be needlessly forced to pay more for power from such sources, robbing them of funds that could create jobs and pay for investment.
It’s the final unseen tax, however, that is perhaps the most outrageous. It’s now widely accepted that landowners and big businesses have started to invest in renewable energy projects — be they wind or solar-powered — only because of the huge subsidies being offered by the Government.
At a time when household savers are struggling to get a 0.5 per cent return on an instant access saving account, some of these renewable energy subsidies — paid in the form of generous payments for the electricity produced, so called feed-in tariffs (FITs) — are guaranteeing annual returns of 10 per cent. Small wonder that after years of disinterest and inactivity, renewable energy projects are now popping up all over the place.
These direct subsidies are paid for out of general taxation — in other words by every individual or corporate taxpayer — to the current tune of some £1.5 billion a year. But research has shown these subsidies are being paid to some of the wealthiest landowners and biggest businesses in the country, including the Crown Estate. It’s one of the biggest wealth transfers — from millions of ordinary hard-working taxpayers to a few hundred of the hugely wealthy — in British history.
It’s staggeringly unfair and, in the growing opinion of many, totally pointless.
Not only is much of the science behind the idea of global warming now being disputed but, at a time of such widespread economic hardship, we simply cannot afford to misdirect scarce economic resources on such a massive scale. Britain needs jobs, it needs industry. What it doesn’t need is rows and rows of heavily-subsidised wind turbines.
People, however, will only realise that when the cost to each and every one of us becomes readily apparent and, at the moment, it’s being deliberately hiddens. The Government has to come clean and force the power companies to make their bills fully transparent.
For residential customers, the cost of the Renewables Obligation and European Emission Transfer Scheme needs to be itemised in the same way VAT currently is. If the EETS really is costing each household an average of £100 a year, then householders have a right to know that.
For business customers, many of which pay huge power bills already, both the Climate Change Levy and the Carbon Floor Price, where appropriate, need to be separately quantified and itemised.
Only then will those facing spiralling power bills have all the information required to make the appropriate decisions. Only then will it be possible to see if a power company has been raising its prices unfairly and change supplier.
And only then will the true cost of the Government’s mad rush towards renewable energy become clear, allowing voters to back or sack those who formulated the policy.
But full transparency could have also have one other benefit. It could persuade the Coalition Government to rethink this misguided and unaffordable energy policy altogether.