Government ‘cannot completely nullify’ pressure on energy costs, minister says

But Brandon Lewis said the Government will ‘put in the support that we can, as and when we can’ to ease the sting of rising prices.

02 April 2022

It is not possible to “completely nullify” the pressures on energy prices, a Cabinet minister has said, as demonstrators gather across the country over the cost-of-living crisis.

But Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said the Government is “looking… across the board at what we’re doing with the public’s money”, and will “put in the support that we can, as and when we can” to ease the sting of rising prices.

The People’s Assembly said it expects thousands of protesters to take to the streets in dozens of locations throughout the UK to highlight those suffering “real hardships” due to the combination of a hike in fuel and food costs, inflation and low pay.

Unions have complained that Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s spring statement last week did nothing to allay fears about soaring fuel bills and rising inflation, with the TUC calling for an emergency budget to help families.

The lifting of the energy price cap on Friday will create an “impossible choice for many”, to eat or heat, said the People’s Assembly.

A spokesperson for the campaign group said: “Public outrage over the cost-of-living crisis is growing fast, and our response is gaining momentum.”

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Lewis said the Government cannot “completely nullify” the impacts of global pressure on energy prices, but ministers will put in supportive measures where possible.

“I know, even this week, where I live we’re on oil-fired heating, I’ve seen that change directly in the price of oil – and actually the ability to get it,” he said.

“At home, my family went a few days where we had no oil, just waiting for the suppliers and seeing the very big increase in price on that.

“We can’t completely nullify the impacts of the global markets and global pressure, for example, on energy, which is obviously the main focus at the moment for most people.

“But we will put in the support that we can, as and when we can, as I say, looking… across the board at what we’re doing with the public’s money.”

On Saturday there will be a protest outside Downing Street in London, with similar events in towns and cities including Birmingham, Bournemouth, Bristol, Cardiff, Cambridge, Coventry, Derby, Doncaster, Glasgow, Hanley, Hull, Ipswich, Lancaster, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Newcastle, Peterborough, Portsmouth, Preston, Redcar, Sheffield and Southampton.

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who will be speaking at the London demonstration, said: “With rising fuel, food and energy bills, the soaring cost of living is pushing millions into poverty, and the disgusting treatment of the sacked P&O workers needs urgent action from the Government.

“Demonstrations will be taking place all over the country, with thousands of people coming together to demand redistribution of wealth and power and decent wages for all, as well as justice for P&O workers.”

Laura Pidcock, national secretary of the People’s Assembly, who will be speaking at the Liverpool protest, said: “What people are experiencing is intolerable.

“No matter how patiently we explain that Government inaction over soaring energy and fuel costs and sharply rising food prices is deepening poverty, misery and hunger, it is met with at best indifference and at worst more of the same.

“The truth is they are so wedded to the economic system we have, comfortable with a hands-off approach, that even when markets are obviously failing us, they continue with business as usual.

“We tell them about children going hungry and the Government shrug, politically speaking.”

Labour has repeatedly called for a windfall tax on oil and gas companies, which it says could generate funds to help struggling families and pensioners with energy bills.

Mr Lewis told Sky News that such a levy may sound like “an attractive option” but it “won’t necessarily have the impact on global prices that people think it will”.

“I do understand why people look to that… Labour have been making this point for a while. What they’re not able to answer… is the reality of what is happening in the energy market,” he said.

“First of all, this is a global pressure, we’re seeing this around the world. So what we do with companies here in the UK won’t have the impact of changing the whole global energy market prices, but we should also remember that those energy companies here in the UK are already paying about 40% tax – that’s roughly double what most sectors in the UK economy are paying.

“They employ hundreds of thousands of people in the UK… they are investing hugely in more work to develop more energy and produce more energy. They need the income that they have to make those investments, and the part they play in the economy paying salaries.

“So a windfall tax on those companies won’t necessarily have the impact on global prices that people think it will. It can have an impact on some domestic prices by taxing higher a sector that is already very, very highly taxed.

“So although… it sounds an attractive option, in the wider economic context it doesn’t really work. And that’s why we’ve looked at what can we do that will have a beneficial impact directly for people in their pockets.”

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) is planning further protests in the coming days over the sacking of almost 800 P&O seafarers.

The Insolvency Service announced on Friday that it has launched formal criminal and civil investigations into the circumstances surrounding the redundancies.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said there were “clear grounds” to detain P&O’s ships.

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