U.K. Ministries Squabble Over Effort to Confront Energy Crisis
(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. government’s efforts to defend consumers and businesses from soaring energy prices descended into inter-ministerial squabbling.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng gave a series of interviews Sunday, saying the government would maintain its price caps to shield energy consumers from the full impact of a jump in natural gas prices and was looking at measures to aid industry and power suppliers. Kwarteng’s remarks that he was in “engaging” in talks with the Treasury about support for industry triggered the spat.
A person familiar with the matter said there are no current talks between Kwarteng’s department and the Treasury. The opposition Labour Party was quick to label the dispute a sign of incompetence and call on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to “get a grip.”
Kwarteng took to the airwaves to try to convince the public that the government has a plan to mitigate the effect on power bills of a sixfold increase in gas prices and guarantee supplies of heating fuel as the winter takes hold. About a dozen energy suppliers have failed since the start of August because of rising energy costs. Consumers are just starting to feel the pain after a price cap was increased at the start of the month and will face another jump in April.
Sky News reported Sunday that BP Plc-backed Pure Planet is the latest supplier that’s close to collapsing, and that talks are under way with the regulator Ofgem to transfer customers to another supplier. Some energy firms have lobbied Johnson’s government to loosen consumer protections so that companies can survive.
Kwarteng also denied a report in the Sunday Times had that he was seeking billions of pounds in support from the Treasury to prop up industry.
“I have not asked for billions,” he told the BBC. “We’ve got existing schemes. I’m working very closely with Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, to get us through this situation.”
On Friday, Kwarteng met with officials from energy-intensive companies and said he would work to ease the growing pressure on industry from surging gas prices.
The government is “having a conversation” on ways it may be able to support users like the steel, chemical, cement, paper, ceramics and glass industries, Kwarteng said on Sky News, without offering specifics.
“We need to have a plan, and we need to get on with it,” Labour lawmaker Emily Thornberry said in an interview on BBC’s Andrew Marr program. “We shouldn’t be in a situation where we wait until there’s a crisis.”
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