Advice surgery

JulianHunt.jpgJulian Hunt on why it’s time to put energy showrooms back on our High Streets

The Energy Bill, currently winding itself through the Lords Committee stage, is aimed at improving everyone’s use of energy so that it is more effective, cheaper and will lead to less carbon emitted into the atmosphere. 

It is becoming clear however, that consumers and householders will find it very difficult to know what options there are for heating, insulating and ventilating their house. And also, what bill payment schemes to take up with the energy companies. A fellow Peer has complained of a five page electricity bill on his property in Scotland. Meanwhile, a conference of energy experts reported last week how some council tenants in Sunderland were finding the options quite beyond them.

So in an amendment to be moved tomorrow [Thursday] I will propose that the government opens up energy ‘surgeries’ all over the UK, where people can be walked through advice on different types of energy installations and how to best pay their fuel bills. 

There are plenty of empty shops on our High Streets, and many well qualified job seekers who could be employed in such surgeries. The experience gained in explaining both energy systems and consumer finance would certainly help with finding employment in the sector. Of course, these information services are available on the Internet and via helplines. But speaking personally, I would much prefer to pop down somewhere local to me and get the answer I want – something I well remember from the days of electricity showrooms. 

Another aspect of these surgeries would be to explain why the government is making its reforms in energy provision. At the doctor’s surgery you learn about your health, how to change your lifestyle, and a certain amount about the science of medicine. At these energy surgeries there could be information available about sustainability, climate change and developing technology.  

Another aspect of my proposal is perhaps more ambitious. 

In the Netherlands, Machynleth in Wales, Swindon and a few other places too, there are centres displaying windmills, solar collectors, biomass generation, new kinds of insulation and how to avoid flood damage; all with experts on hand to provide information. The UK needs many more of these centres, which could be funded and managed with the help of energy companies, non-profit bodies and local authorities. 

Both of these initiatives build on what exists already, on the enthusiasm of many companies and organisations, and Labour thinking. I hope that all political parties will support my amendment (51AA) and that Energy Ministers and their officials will begin to take action soon. 

Lord Hunt of Chesterton is a backbench Labour Peer and a former Director General of the UK Meteorological Office

Published 10th July 2013

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