I've been feeling a bit sorry for Gordon Brown.
I know that as admissions go this is pretty much on a par with confessing to a penchant for the hits of James Blunt and a sneaking admiration for the "comedy" of Jim Davidson, but I'm afraid I can't help it.
It was the kicking the prime minister has taken in the past 24 hours over the decision not to slap a windfall tax on energy firms and increase fuel assistance payments that finally brought on this wave of sympathy.
It is possible, indeed logical, to disagree with many things Brown says and does, but it is surely impossible to disagree with his assertion that faced with a period of rising energy prices that is likely to continue for at least the next decade we should eschew "short-term gimmicks or giveaways" in favour of long term energy efficiency programme that can bring down bills permanently.
The campaign for a windfall tax and increased winter fuel payments was always a crass populist measure drummed up by Labour backbenchers increasingly fearful over their political future.
There are undoubtedly serious problems approaching this winter that will leave many poorer households struggling to pay their energy bills, but if you take a dispassionate look at what was being proposed as a solution you realise that it is quite simply insane.
There is arguably a relatively strong case for a windfall tax on the energy companies to recoup the multibillion pound windfall they enjoyed from the botched first round of the European emissions trading scheme (although I'd suggest that increasing the number of carbon credits they have to buy at auction would prove a more effective means of raising this money). But any revenue raised through such a raid on corporate profits should be used to accelerate the development of renewables and adoption of energy efficiency measures such as insulation, not fund hand outs.
If this revenue were simply to be used to increase fuel payments to households we would end up in a bizarrely circuitous scenario whereby the energy companies were being taxed to hand money to people who would then use it to pay their bills from the energy companies. Am I the only one who thinks this is a little daft?
This is not, of course, to belittle the very real suffering that is likely to be meted out to many households this winter, nor the huge number of small businesses that are going to struggle to cope with soaring energy bills. So what can be done to tackle the problem?
Forcing the energy companies to fix their prices may have an attractive simplicity to it, but it is quite rightly in breach of UK competition law and should not be countenanced.
Instead, we should, as Brown advises, recognise that with global energy supplies constrained and the energy companies obligated to fund the shift towards renewables above inflation increases in fuel bills are with us for the long term. Offer people handouts to help them pay their bills and you will have to do the same again next year, and the year after that, and the year after that...
The only answer is to bring down the amount of energy we use, something Brown appears to have recognised and is apparently keen to act on.
Whether my sympathy for our beleaguered prime minister lasts depends entirely on how he plans to achieve this.
The energy companies' existing insulation programmes simply aren't working fast enough and are in desperate need of an overhaul.
It is hard to disagree with the Local Government Association's view that it would be far more efficient to have the energy firms pay a greater chunk of their profits into a central fund and let the councils use the money to develop their own insulation programmes. As such councils would be able to insulate whole streets at a time, drastically improving the efficiency of a process that at the moment might see your neighbour get someone from British Gas to come round to fit free insulation, while you have to wait for someone from EDF to do the exact same job.
Equally, the government needs to realise that energy efficiency goes far beyond insulation and introduce similar schemes for subsidising or lowering the costs of double glazing and energy efficient appliances. The proposal for cutting VAT on green products, which appears to have drifted off the radar since it was first mooted last year, needs urgently reviving.
The CBI's proposals for green loans, which BusinessGreen.com revealed this week, should also be enthusiastically embraced. As CBI boss Richard Lambert explained the problem with energy efficiency investments for both householders and business leaders is the time lag between initial investment and financial rewards, and addressing these types of time lags is basically what the banking sector is for.
Return on investment periods for energy efficient products may be getting shorter all the time, but there is still a strong case for low interest loans, perhaps similar to the student loan scheme, that allow people to pay for energy efficient technologies and then only pay back the loan as cost savings are realised.
Better means of tracking energy savings would be required to convince people that their loan repayments are coming out of money they would not otherwise have had, but then again perhaps that would give the government the push it needs to finally mandate smart meters.
All of this should, of course, be repeated for the business sector. The current mess of green tax breaks and grants needs tidying up and made more accessible and generous, while the banks should also be encouraged to develop new financing mechanisms for green buildings and investments.
It might not have as instant an impact as increased handouts to bill payers, but were Brown to embrace all of these measures in next week's energy package then not only will he go a long way towards tackling fuel poverty but he would also deliver huge cut in carbon emissions.
If he does all that and still gets slated, then I really will feel sorry for him.
Right, I'm off to try and work out exactly who is responsible for enforcing the UK's eWaste laws.
Have a good weekend,
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