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Tuesday, 30 July 2013 00:00

Turn out the lights on Ofgem

The Morning Star wholeheartedly supports calls for toothless energy regulator Ofgem to be scrapped.

It is a key part of the disastrous model of privatisation inflicted on us over the past 25 years.

When electricity was sold off in 1990 this paper decried the "monster swindle" that saw £3 billion in profits squeezed from taxpayers in 24 hours.

That's £5.8bn in today's money.

The shameless Tories deliberately set the price of shares at 40 per cent below the market value of the state-owned firms.

As a result when they were floated on the stock exchange profiteers were able to turn every £1 bought into £1.77 within hours.

Tellingly then Labour leader Neil Kinnock, now cosily draped in ermine in the House of Lords, refused to answer privatising PM John Major's challenge on whether he would reverse the measure.

Twenty-three years and that initial £3bn windfall for the City has been swelled by the billions more pounds that have been snatched from taxpayers - the pro-private lobby prefers to use the term "consumers" - by these private energy firms since.

In that time Ofgem's feeble primary "role," to protect the interests of consumers by promoting competition, has been revealed as a fig leaf sham.

The failed model of rampant profiteering overseen by a weak regulator without the power to fundamentally change the set-up must be binned.

Rebranding Ofgem or minor new powers will not tackle the basic corruption at the heart of this broken sector.

Electricity is used by everyone in Britain, and no amount of price comparison sites and feeble official complaints will help ordinary people get the best deal when the profit motive comes into play.

Gas is used by most, and the same applies.

Like water with which to clean and drink, heat and light are in the 21st century fundamental rights.

These vital supplies are far too important to be left to people whose main objective is to make money for shareholders.

At every turn the current owners are looking to squeeze out extra pounds here, extra pounds there, whenever they think no-one's looking.

The real solution is to bin Ofgem, bin this failed experiment with privatisation, and get these services into the safest hands possible - ours.

Helpline botch

It says something about the incompetence of those in government when the first reaction to a successful state-run health helpline is not to celebrate its success but to look at ways to make it rubbish on the cheap.

Why can't they for once just leave well alone?

Even more so with NHS Direct, which, given the torrent of negative media stories about the health service, which for the most part does an amazing job day in, day out, was one shining beacon of how to do things successfully.

Fully trained health staff on the end of a line, contactable out of hours and reducing pressure on GPs and A&E services. A great website.

And here we are weeks after its replacement with the fragmented, cut-price 111 offering, which was designed to be parcelled up to private subcontractors, in total meltdown.

To its shame it was Labour that initially introduced trials that would reduce the number of fully trained phone operators to bring down the average cost of servicing a call.

The Tories have since picked up the baton and run with it. And now they've well and truly dropped it.

Given the prospect that people in England are actually being put at mortal risk from this debacle, the simple solution is to admit that they've got it wrong, and go back to the original model.

Labour should be held fast to any pledge to do the same.

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