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JEFF PRESTRIDGE: Energy ogre must be tackled by tackled NOW

JEFF PRESTRIDGE: Irrespective of who is next PM – Liz Truss (Thatcher, mark two) or Rishi Sunak (Gordon Brown clone) energy ogre must be tackled NOW

Irrespective of who is anointed Prime Minister next month – Liz Truss (Thatcher, mark two) or Rishi Sunak (clone of Gordon Brown) – it’s imperative that they immediately tackle the ogre that is sitting outside our front doors, waiting to get in and wreck our finances. 

Yes, I’m referring to the energy ogre, holding in its hand gas and electricity bills heading towards the stratosphere. Around £3,600 a year from October, jumping to £4,400 next spring and then maybe £5,000 and beyond. Frightening, terrifying, petrifying. 

Although tax cuts are always welcome, and could well help avert the recession that the Bank of England thinks is heading our way like a steam train, it’s essential that financial support is provided to households which are likely to be overwhelmed by higher energy bills. 

Energy ogre: In times of national emergency, governments should step up to the plate

The quicker a support package is put together, the better. Indeed, it should already be in place. In times of national emergency, governments should step up to the plate – as the current administration did quite magnificently when Covid-19 and lockdown temporarily paralysed the economy in 2020. 

Encouraging though it was to see Boris Johnson head discussions with energy providers last week, little was promised. Platitudes rather than actions were the order of the day. It wasn’t good enough. 

In the nation’s best interests, Johnson, Truss and Sunak should temporarily forget their differences, push aside personal grievances and vendettas, and come up with a package of measures that can be implemented quickly. 

Measures should include the suspension of VAT on energy bills until prices start falling, and an increase in – or extension of – the energy bills discount scheme that is already scheduled to provide households with £400 of support from October.

I don’t think that restricting any additional support to the most vulnerable in society is good enough – although it’s essential that the low paid and elderly are adequately protected from the swingeing increase in energy bills. 

Unless countered, I fear that this energy ogre will soon wreak havoc with the finances of a majority of households, not a minority. Many will be diehard Conservatives. They will be left very disappointed if the Government doesn’t confront this ogre head-on. 

Details please, so we can sleep a little easier at night.

Lack of action over Safe Hands demise 

It is nearly five months since funeral plan provider Safe Hands Plans plunged into administration, distressing some 46,000 customers who had policies with it. 

Since then, little has happened to suggest that these customers will get the funerals they paid for when it is time for them to meet their maker. Indeed, administrator FRP has been stony silent since June. 

As for holding those responsible for the demise of Safe Hands to account, the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slowly. It must be galling for those caught up in this financial scandal to discover that the former boss of Safe Hands is still living a life of luxury, enthusiastically driving fast cars around some of the country’s iconic racetracks. 

As one victim said to me last week: ‘What is frustrating is that FRP is being paid handsomely for its work [from the remaining assets at Safe Hands] while the main culprit can still play with his racing cars. As for us, all we can look forward to is confirmation at some stage that we have lost most of our money.’ 

Surely, these innocent victims deserve better. Whether it’s Government, the regulator or the funeral plans industry, somebody somewhere needs to intervene. Financial justice must be done. 

More bank branch closures 

Another week has passed and with it another batch of branch closures has been set in train by our country’s leading banks and building societies. 

No announcements were made, just confirmations quietly put on the website of cash machine network operator Link. Between them, Nationwide and Barclays are shutting another ten, taking the number of closures announced this year to 431. 

All rather galling given the banks’ obvious reluctance to offset these closures by funding one-stop banking hubs that customers of all the big banks can use. So far, just two hubs are up and running while ten are work in progress. Not good enough. 

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