Energy has been at the centre of the cost of living debate since Ed Milliband promised a price freeze for 20 months should the Labour party win the 2015 election. Subsequently Ofgem conducted a market assessment and found that there is ‘declining consumer confidence in energy companies’ while retail profits have increased for the energy companies with ‘no clear evidence of suppliers becoming more efficient in reducing their own costs’. While it was only in April of this year that wages caught up with inflation, the first time in six years, it’s likely the cost of living will continue to be a hot political battleground in the 11 months until the next general election.
It’s in this setting that YouGov-Cambridge held an event in London looking at Energy, Politics and the Consumer examining the reputation of the energy industry and its players in the UK and how to enhance it supported by extensive research with consumers through to parliamentarians.
YouGov carried out polling with the general public, opinion formers and MPs. MPs had little faith in any group to play an effective role in the energy market, including even other MPs, while 38% of Labour MP’s have little or no trust in consumer interest groups, suggesting a lack of confidence in these groups to effect real change for the consumer despite consumer groups forming a central part of Labour’s pledge to put the consumer at the heart of public policy. This promise includes inviting consumer groups such as Which? to play a part in policy formation by working with regulators to draw up an Annual Competition Audit of Britain’s economy which would help set the agenda for government in the year ahead.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the same poll found 82% of all MPs surveyed had little or no trust in energy companies to play an effective part in the energy market, though worryingly nearly half of MPs polled had little or no trust in politicians to effectively play their part in the energy market either.
Public trust in consumer groups is split, 45% trust and the same distrust groups such as Which? to effectively play their part in the energy market, though they are significantly more trusted than energy suppliers (14%) or politicians (12%).
YouGov also looked at a range of policies to understand which receive the most support amongst the general public. While the most popular has already been introduced, simplification of bills and fewer tariffs, the second most popular has already been rejected by the Prime Minister, a windfall tax. This was called for last year by Sir John Major and immediately rejected by David Cameron as the coalition struggled to wrestle the debate back from Labour after Ed Miiband announced at the 2013 Labour Party conference that he would freeze household energy bills for 20 months from May 2015 if he were to win the next election.
With energy topping the list of sectors most in need of government regulation at a time when power companies have seen profits doubling from retail consumers according to industry regulator Ofgem, the issue is sure to stay top of the political agenda.
For a full copy of YouGov’s energy report and latest polling please contact us.