Liz Truss has ignored the government’s own climate advisers in opposing an energy-saving campaign this winter, it has emerged, amid mounting frustration over her resistance to the plan.
The advisory body the Climate Change Committee wrote to the prime minister last month outlining the need for a “comprehensive energy advice service” to reduce demand.
“Public awareness of what can be done to reduce energy use (either in homes or businesses) is too low,” the advisers wrote. “Specific advice on this could help in the near term by increasing awareness of low or zero-cost actions that could reduce wasted energy straight away, such as lowering boiler flow temperatures, and simple draught proofing. Lowering boiler flow temperatures can reduce gas consumption alone by 6-8%.”
However, Truss continues to oppose even a slimmed-down £15m public awareness campaign, understood to have been endorsed by business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg. The business department said there were “no plans for the government to tell the public to reduce usage for the sake of our energy supplies”.
Labour claims an awareness campaign could save households up to £8.4bn. Its figure is based on £300 of savings per household. Domestic bills are now being heavily subsidised by the state via the energy price guarantee introduced by Truss.
Meanwhile, research by the Carbon Brief website shows that UK gas imports could have been cut by 65 terawatt hours if government support for energy efficiency and renewables had continued under David Cameron – a reduction of 13% overall.
Ed Miliband, the shadow climate change secretary, said: “With every decision she makes, Liz Truss is showing an unprecedented blend of zealotry and incompetence. When even Jacob Rees-Mogg appears to have a more sensible approach than the prime minister, you know just how badly the country is being run–and the British people are paying the price.”
Citizens Advice is pushing for an awareness campaign. Gillian Cooper, its head of energy policy, said: “People need clear, consistent advice on how to safely manage their energy use. The government is in the best position to deliver this, with a national awareness campaign that everyone can trust. This needs to go hand in hand with further targeted support for people at the sharp end of this crisis, so they can afford to keep the heating and lights on.”
Councils in the UK are reducing office temperatures, closing public buildings and slashing heating hours in residential blocks as concerns grow over the potential for winter energy blackouts.
Stevenage, Cornwall and Sevenoaks are among councils instructing staff to keep the heating low or turning down office thermostats, typically reducing temperatures from 21C to 19C. For those working in non-domestic buildings managed by Perth and Kinross council in Scotland, the maximum temperature is 18C.
Others have closed corporate buildings altogether to save energy. Leeds city council said it was closing “a number of non-public-access buildings” as part of plans for increased home working that had been “given extra urgency by the need to avoid unnecessary energy expenditure”. Wakefield council in West Yorkshire has closed its Grade I-listed county hall headquarters, blaming surging energy prices, and said it was considering further buildings for temporary closure, with “nothing off the table”. “The energy crisis has seen our gas prices triple and electricity prices increase by 140%,” said Denise Jeffery, leader of the Labour-controlled council.
View image in fullscreenWakefield county hall has been closed by the council to save money. Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images
Tory-controlled Cornwall council, which has turned down temperatures in its offices from 21C to 19C, said it was looking at proposals to reduce street lighting in some areas – a measure that several other local authorities are also examining.
“In our operational estate we are reverting to maintain 19C and a targeted streetlight switch-off is also under consideration,” the council said.
Islington council in north London, which has declared a cost of living emergency, is reducing communal heating hours for people living in some of its residential buildings from 18 to 13 a day. It said it had little choice but to implement the measure due to soaring global gas prices, adding that the “emergency action” was being taken to limit cost increases. People on communal heating networks are not covered by the energy price cap.
Across Europe, measures have been taken to encourage people to reduce energy consumption. In France, Spain and Germany, public buildings are to be heated to a maximum of 19C, while illuminated advertising in Germany and lights in shop windows in Spain have been banned after 10pm. In Paris, the Eiffel Tower’s lights now go off at 11.45pm instead of 1am.
Stephen Knight, director of the Heat Trust, a national consumer protection scheme for heat networks, said it was “quite an extraordinary decision from 10 Downing Street” not to launch an awareness campaign of its own. Caroline Bragg, director of policy at the Association for Decentralised Energy, said members were “strongly supportive” of calls for an information campaign to encourage energy conservation. “There’s a need to do more now. At this time especially, you’d want the government stepping up and showing initiative,” she said.
Some in the private sector are also taking steps to reduce their energy consumption. Freedom Leisure, a chain with more than 100 leisure centres in the UK, has reduced swimming pool temperatures after energy bills quadrupled, and the gym and health club chain Nuffield Health has temporarily closed its hot tubs.