The monopoly of the big six energy companies in the UK is undeniable. They hold a tight grip on the economy of these islands. It’s with this in mind that we were interested when an organisation that we hadn’t heard of called Power for People got in touch with us.
How they had found out about us is unclear, but they were pushing for something called community renewable schemes:
Such a scheme is de facto blocked off by unfair regulations, and with the aforementioned big six holding a disproportionate monopoly that left the ordinary consumer with high costs. Those high costs, of course, have only got worse with the cost-of-living crisis, with the UK having currently among the highest energy costs in the world.
The fact that Power for People had backed up these local scheme plans with a genuine Bill that was and is making its way through Parliament, backed by no less than 318 MPs at the time of writing (though not either of the two Hackney MPs at that point), along with a large number of NGOs and environmental groups, from Greenpeace to the Green Party, meant that we were interested straight away.
A meeting with Power for People followed, which laid the groundwork for our support for the organisation. And when we discussed if members of Sustainable Hackney could get in touch with Hackney’s two MPs to back their support, I put myself forward as someone who would see if I could get in touch with my MP in Hackney North & Stoke Newington, Diane Abbott. It would take just under a year for the interview with Abbott to actually take place in her office in Parliament – an indication of just how convoluted and slow-moving politics can be sometimes.
Along the way, it also included asking her to support an amendment in the existing Energy Security Bill that included provisions from the Local Electricity Bill, as well as myself and the Mayor of Hackney together attending an oversubscribed Power for People event at the woefully small Victoria Room in Parliament, where the likes of Clive Lewis were in the squashed-up audience. Meanwhile, the initial scheduling of the meeting in September last year with Abbott was pushed back to last month (January 2023). The big day finally happened – and even then, only after the meeting was delayed by a day, after hasty emails by Abbot’s office to us. Such is the life of an MP.
When the day finally happened, I felt somewhat nervous and with a feeling of trepidation, as if I was attending a job interview (for which I get very nervous) rather than just a meeting. As previously agreed, I was accompanied by two members of Power for People, Corinna and Rupert. We went through Portcullis House’s airport-style security, in which my belt and watch came off; a lock and key that I have in my bag for my work locker was confiscated on security grounds, and returned as we were leaving.
I was expecting some plush, large office, like something you see in American movies; in reality, her office was relatively small, accompanied by her assistant. We sat at a table and began introductions by me mentioning my volunteering in Hackney, including attending Hackney North & Stoke Newington Constituency Labour Party General Meetings, with Abbott also attends, as well as my father’s involvement in Centerprise, the community centre that Abbott used to frequent in the 80s (and possibly the 70s). The conversion then moved on to her inevitably quizzing us on the intricacies of the bill. I will always be grateful for Corinna and Rupert’s presence, as the question-and-answer session went deep into the specifics of such a scheme, such that I could only sit and listen for half the time. Corinna and Rupert went methodically through the implications of the scheme, the current state of the Bill as it ping-ponged through both chambers in Parliament, and the complex technical issues behind the bill, much of it which I would have struggled to outline myself.
The intensity of the meeting was worth it, though. In the end, Abbott agreed to back the bill after a bit of prodding, and we sheepishly asked for a photo opp, too.
Given that the MPs supporting Power for People’s bill are listed alphabetically on their website, Diane Abbott is listed rather fortuitously now as the first one on the list. That’s something I and Sustainable Hackney can take home as a success. However, there still remains a glaring omission on there: the other MP in Hackney – Hackney South & Shoreditch’s Meg Hillier. Thankfully, in the last few days, a volunteer has come forward to me via the Green’s fantastic Hackney Councillor, Zo Garbett. The volunteer has now been introduced by me to Power for People, and the whole process mentioned above – hopefully – will begin all over again, but this time with Hillier.
And if Power for People’s Bill passed, the ramifications for ordinary community groups could be enormous. This will mean a break from the big six, enabling local schemes that are already commonplace in Germany and Denmark. It could see the start of a radically new way of approaching our energy use, where we use it together, rather than as atomised individuals. The potential for this is enormous.
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