‘Special administrator’ could be appointed as gas prices and energy cap put companies at risk
The government is considering temporarily nationalising failing énergie companies to stop them collapsing from surging gas prices, ministers have indicated.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is holding crisis talks with firms following a meeting with regulator Ofgem on Sunday. M. Kwarteng a dit “well-rehearsed plans” were in place to ensure consumers were not cut off.
And he indicated that he would be prepared to appoint a “special administrator” that would see the firms taken under the government’s wing – effectively nationalising them on a temporary basis.
The business secretary said consumers would be protected from sudden price hikes through the Government’s energy price cap.
But the cap puts pressure on consumers who are unable to pass on costs when wholesale costs rise, with four small energy companies having already folded and fears more could follow.
Regulator Ofgem has said it will ensure people on failed suppliers will be picked up by another company.
Speaking on a diplomatic visit to New York Boris Johnson sought to reassure consumers the price increases were only “temporary” as the world economy picked up after the Covid pandemic.
“C'est comme si tout le monde retournait mettre la bouilloire à la fin d'un programme télé, vous constatez d'énormes pressions sur les systèmes d'approvisionnement mondiaux,” he told reporters travelling with him to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
But prices have surged higher in Britain than elsewhere in Europe and critics say Mr Johnson’s decision to leave the EU’s single market for energy is to blame for the crisis. Mr Johnson argued that leaving the single market would give Britain more independence.
Elsewhere the je newspaper reports that energy firms are lobbying to end the government’s energy price cap policy, et le Temps Financier says the industry is pushing for the creation of a so-called “bad bank” to absorb unprofitable customers from firms that fail.
OGUK, représentant l'industrie pétrolière et gazière offshore, les prix de gros déclarés du gaz ont augmenté 250 pour cent depuis janvier – avec un 70 per cent rise since August alone.
Après un week-end enfermé dans des pourparlers d'urgence, minister Mr Kwarteng acknowledged it was a “worrying time” for customers.
“Our priority is to protect consumers. Si un fournisseur de dernier recours n'est pas possible, un administrateur spécial serait nommé par l'Ofgem et le gouvernement,” il a dit.
“The objective is to continue supply to customers until the company can be rescued or customers moved to new suppliers.”
Dans le même temps, les ministres sont aux prises avec des avertissements de pénuries potentielles sur les étagères alors que l'effet d'entraînement de la hausse des prix du gaz se répercute sur l'économie.
Les producteurs ont averti que l'approvisionnement en viande, la volaille et les boissons gazeuses pourraient toutes être touchées en raison d'une pénurie de dioxyde de carbone (CO2).
Monsieur Johnson, pourtant, a insisté sur le fait qu'il restait confiant que les approvisionnements énergétiques seraient maintenus.
“I have no doubt that supply issues will be readily addressed. Nous sommes très confiants dans nos chaînes d'approvisionnement,” il a dit.
“But in the meantime, we will make sure we work with all the gas companies to do whatever we can to keep people’s supplies coming, to make sure they don’t go out for business, and to make sure we get through the current difficult period.”
Conservative peer Lord Barwell, who was previously Theresa May’s chief of staff, on Sunday night warned that the current situation could “become a crisis”.
“It definitely has the potential to become a crisis,” he told BBC Radio 4’s The Westminster Hour.
“I think that the first concern of government will be about ensuring security of supply, making sure that we’re all still getting the gas that we need, both domestic and businesses.
“But the second concern will be about prices that consumers are being asked to pay … More generally, (the Government) will also be worried about the cost of living.
“We’ve got the tax increases that they’ve just brought in, we’ve got the universal credit reduction, that’s about to come online, plus rising energy bills, I think there is a real political danger here of cost of living issues becoming a real difficulty for the Government.”
Labour’s shadow energy secretary Ed Miliband last week said energy companies should be taken into common ownership.