THE BLOG
21/10/2013 08:55 BST | Updated 21/12/2013 05:12 GMT

Give Power to Partnerships

Two door-to-door salesmen bang on your door within minutes of each other. One's selling the latest pair of Google Glasses; the other's hawking an iWatch at a most reasonable price. Being Amish, you tell them both to clear off and leave you alone. That's the power of choice: you decide what you want.

Now that Npower has joined the rest of the gang in bumping up bills for Brits, isn't it time something was actually done about it? Yes, Ed's got his price freeze, and the Coalition have their 'wear jumpers to keep warm' enlightened scheme, but this is all a bit like tinkering with the clothing of the people on top of a wedding cake, when the bottom layer looks as if it's crumbling.

While we have to buy power on international markets, and have as much chance of controlling them as Augustus Gloop has of himself in Wonka's chocolate factory, we can certainly try and put our own patch of the grid in order. Look at the power-line going into your home. There's only one. Just like there's only one train-line going through your town, you have to use it. No ifs, no buts, no real choice. It's not as if you can just build a windfarm in your back garden. They cost a bit more than most mortgages (outside London).

Unlike Amish boy above, that's the big problem with power in Britain today. Without a true choice, how can we expect the power companies to behave properly? No, they have their primary responsibility to maximise returns to their owners. When custom can be footloose, that's less of a problem. When suppliers are the only egg in the box, then it gets mighty tricky to do things any other way.

Instead of just offloading our family silver into the open marketplace as we did in the 80s, we could have taken another road all together. We could have sold controlling stakes (if not all of them) to the company and its workers, turning them into partnerships instead of cash cows for international monetary flows. Why might this be better? Well, apart from our power companies trying to do the right things for the right reason to keep the lights on, the people who would own them would also live in the same environment as the people they serve. You might care a lot more about energy prices in your own hobbit burrow if you have to pay for them too. That's not necessarily true about a portfolio investment owner who spends more time in the Maldives than Maida Vale.

Of course, the easy counter is that this impossible to do now. But if I told you that the government was going to buy up RBS in 2006 you (unless you were switched on) would have lampooned me as a madman. Our power prices are just the result of everything that's come before them. It's not the prices that are wrong in power, it's how power is constructed within it. Until that's putting people first, the supply coming into your home will continue to have an annoying pong of unsuitability with it.