The workers at notorious privateer Carillion’s energy services division have just received an unpleasant lesson in how the government’s expenditure cuts programme really works. Rather than saving taxpayers’ money, it’s actually just stopping people being taxpayers at all and turning them into benefit claimants instead. Not long ago the Tories and more particularly their Lib-Dem toadies were turning the air blue, or perhaps green, with their undying commitments to environmentalism and clean energy.
It all turned sour in November when the Tories suddenly announced that the tariff for solar energy supply to the National Grid was going to be hacked back.
This tariff was a 20-year subsidy dreamed up by the last Labour government for those installing solar panels and linking in to sell any excess power generated to the grid. It was planned to do several things. It was to encourage new developers to incorporate green energy supply in new builds, to contribute towards the government’s legally binding green energy targets and to encourage a new generation of environmentally friendly and hi-tech industry. But along came the Tories and their fetish with cuts and announced – in advance of consultation with anyone – that the tariff was going to be halved with effect from December 12 – several weeks before the consultation is due to close.
The announcement, as might be expected, caused uproar and sparked one of the oddest coalitions of resistance that you could ever wish to see with the green movement joining in a chorus of disapproval along with bosses’ organisation the CBI, the opposition Labour Party, housebuilders and social housing providers and even some Lib-Dem MPs. The MPs promised revolt – which failed due to the loyalty of high-up Lib Dem coalition ministers to their Tory masters – the builders threatened court action and the CBI and Labour warned of a real threat to jobs in the newly burgeoning industry. And now the warnings are coming to fruition.
Not that we’re painting Carillion as angels and victims in all this. It’s a predatory company that has made billions from picking up the contracts resulting from the privatisation of the public sector that both new Labour and the Tories have executed with vigour. When Carillion took over Newcastle-based Eaga, one of the Britain’s biggest suppliers of heating and renewable energy services, in February for £306 million it sensed that huge profits could be made from government subsidies – a not-unusual strategy for the privatisers.
After all, the 20 to 25-year tariffs were index-linked to the Retail Price Index, so how could they go wrong? Well, it has found out what public-sector workers already know, that this government can’t be relied on. It will break its word, its contracts and its commitments in order to cut costs at the behest of its banking bosses. Thus the government’s attack on the public sector spills over into the private sector and 4,500 Eaga workers are waiting to see which of them, if any, will survive the bosses’ axe. At the very least, 1,500 are rumoured to be at risk in the north-east. It makes one thing clear. What we are facing is not just an attack on the public sector – it’s an assault on us all and everything is vulnerable in the drive to cut government expenditure, including the future of the planet. So when people try to drive wedges between public and private sector workers, claiming that their interests are different, ignore them and remember that an injury to one is, in a very real sense, an injury to all.