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Government Is Split Over Whether To Tell People To Cut Down Energy Use

The government is split over whether to launch a public information campaign on energy use (Alamy)

4 min read

Senior Tories are engaged in an ideological battle over whether to launch a public information campaign telling people how to reduce their energy consumption this winter, or if government should stay out of individual household matters, as ministers prepare to confirm details of their plan to freeze the price cap.

Earlier this month PoliticsHome reported that Liz Truss was encouraged by officials as she entered office to consider launching a public information campaign about how people can cut down their energy consumption in the months ahead.

While the government has pledged to freeze annual energy bills at £2,500, there is concern that Truss's plan to help people with bills will make people less likely to cut down their energy consumption, stretching energy supplies and increasing the risk of blackouts.

The Times has since reported that ministers were drawing up plans to work with energy companies on a public information campaign that encourages people to seek everyday ways to reduce energy use in an attempt to put less pressure on supplies. 

No.10 has repeatedly denied that the government is planning such a campaign, with Downing Street insisting that energy usage is a matter for individuals. Truss appeared to underline that position in New York on Tuesday when she told reporters that it was up to consumers to make "their own decisions" about energy usage. 

"We are not talking about rationing of energy," the prime minister said.

But the issue appears not to be settled among ministers, and debate over whether government should launch an information drive on how people can best prepare for colder months is ongoing, PoliticsHome understands.

Prior to Truss's arrival in Downing Street at the start of this month, officials drew up proposals for a public information campaign that she has been encouraged to put into action.

"Now that the government is picking up the tab on the energy bill, where’s the impetus for people to reduce usage?" said one Whitehall source.

Writing this summer for The House in his former role as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Secretary of State for Education Kit Malthouse said that informing the public about reducing their energy usage would be very important for the government.

Malthouse said that "communicating to the public how we can all help reduce our energy usage" would be one part of "the critical challenge" for ministers this winter.

However, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Jacob Rees Mogg is understood to have argued that people will take steps to reduce usage without government advice.

Like-minded ministers also point to the fact that bodies like Citizens Advice already provide tips to households on how they can save money on gas and electricity this winter, and that it is not the government's place to influence the behaviour of individual households. 

Truss today said that higher energy bills are a "price worth paying" for helping Ukraine defend itself from Russia and for protecting the UK from foreign aggressors. 

On Friday, Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng will set out more details of how the energy price cap freeze will work when he delivers a "mini-budget" in the House of Commons.

Truss announced that she would keep average household energy bills at £2,500 for two years and provide equal support to businesses for six months.

The prime minister is under pressure to take action to combat the cost of living crisis after defeating Rishi Sunak in this summer's Conservative leadership contest. Ofgem's announcement in the run-up to her victory that the household energy price cap would rise to £3,549 in October, prompted Truss to announce relief measures within days of taking office following concern that many households would be unable to pay their bills.

On Wednesday Rees Mogg will set out how the package of support will work for businesses — which unlike households do not have a cap on their energy bills. Government sources say this element of the policy has taken longer to flesh out because it is more complicated than providing support to households.

Although support for business is limited to six months, government says there is an option to extend it for "vulnerable businesses”, though there has also been no indication of what that means.

Hospitality groups have today told PoliticsHome that they will need government support for longer than six months and that spiralling energy costs has already led to closures and staff layoffs.

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