Jeremy Corbyn needs to do the Maths on Boundary Commission Proposals

In my previous post I noted how some Labour MPs were falsely claiming that the Boundary Commission’s recommendations for England and Wales were party-political gerrymandering. Labour Party Leader, the Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn MP makes a quite different claim to some of his more desperate MPs.

Corbyn claims that since last December (which the Boundary Commission used as a basis of the boundary changes) the electorate has grown by two million people. That is nearly 5% of the electorate. As a result of the wrong figures “you cannot deliver a fair and democratic result on the basis of information that is a year out of date.
Actually it is possible for it to be fair and democratic if the growth in the electorate is evenly spread across the country. That should be a default position that Corbyn needs to disprove. The question is, how much would the imbalance have to be to wipe out the disadvantage Labour gets from the boundary review – a disadvantage due to current 231 Labour seats in England and Wales having on average 3515 fewer constituents than the 329 Conservative seats in May 2015. Let us do the maths, ignoring the 13 seats held by other parties and the Speaker. To even up average constituency size Labour constituencies would need about 812,000 extra voters (231 x 3515), and for the rest of the two million to be evenly spread between the other 560 constituencies. That is about 2120 extra voters. It is not impossible that the average Labour constituency has added 5635 to the electoral roll (>8% extra) and the average Conservative constituency has added 2120 to the electoral roll (<3% extra). Winning the millions on Lotto is not impossible either. But both are highly unlikely, as the reason for the Boundary Review is that Constituency sizes have diverged, with greater growth in the South of England than in the North of England and Wales. So like other Labour MPs, Jeremy Corbyns’ opposition to the Boundary Commission’s proposals seem to be opposition to greater equality and fairness in the British democratic processes.
Two graphs to illustrate this point. Figure 1 from the previous post shows the average constituency size by party and region.

Figure 4 from the previous post shows that average constituency size per region is made much closer to the average constituency size for England and Wales in the proposed changes.

 

Kevin Marshall

Are the Proposed Boundary Changes Designed to hurt the Labour Party?

Yesterday the proposed new boundaries for England and Wales were published by the Boundary Commission. Nationally the total number of constituencies will be reduced from 650 to 600, still leaving Britain with one of the largest number of representatives of any democratic parliament. In England the reduction is from 533 to 501 and in Wales from 40 to 29. The UK Polling Report website reports

The changes in England and Wales result in the Conservatives losing 10 seats, Labour losing 28 seats, the Liberal Democrats losing 4 and the Greens losing Brighton Pavilion (though notional calculations like these risk underestimating the performance of parties with isolated pockets of support like the Greens and Lib Dems, so it may not hit them as hard as these suggest).

The Guardian Reports under the banner Boundary changes are designed to hurt us at next election, says Labour MP

Jon Ashworth, the shadow Cabinet Office minister leading the process for Labour, said the party was convinced the proposals were motivated by party politics.

The Manchester Evening News carries this comment

Jonathan Reynolds, Labour MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, accused the Conservatives of ‘old-fashioned gerrymandering’.
I will contest these proposals, because I believe they are a naked attempt to increase the electoral prospects of the Conservative Party at the expense of coherent parliamentary representation,” he said.

This are quite a serious claim to make, particularly as the Boundary Commission clearly states

The Boundary Commission for England is the independent and impartial body that is considering where the boundaries of the new constituencies should be. We must report to Parliament in September 2018.
In doing so, we have to ensure that every new constituency has roughly the same number of electors: no fewer than 71,031 and no more than 78,507. While proposing a set of boundaries which are fairer and more equal, the Commission will also try to reflect geographic factors and local ties. The Commission will also look at the boundaries of existing constituencies and local government patterns in redrawing the map of parliamentary constituency boundaries across England.
In undertaking the 2018 Review, we rely heavily on evidence from the public about their local area. Though we have to work within the tight electorate thresholds outlined above, we seek to recommend constituency boundaries that reflect local areas as much as we can. You can find more detailed guidance in our Guide to the 2018 Review.

I thought I would look at the figures myself to see whether the Boundary Commission has done a fair job overall, or has basically lied, providing a deliberately partisan result, that the UK Polling Report has been complicit in supporting.
For previous posts I downloaded the results of the May 2015 General Election by constituency. I then spilt the results into the regions of England and Wales.
Figure 1 shows the average size of constituency by Region and Party. Spk is the Speaker of the House of Commons.

On average the Conservative held constituencies had 3815 more voters in than Labour held ones. But there are large regional differences. Figure 2 shows the number of constituencies by region and political party.

In the South East and South West, where Labour have larger average constituency sizes they have very few seats. In these regions, the regional average seat size is greater than the England and Wales average, so there will be proportionately less seat reductions. The Conservatives, with the vast majority of seats in these regions do not lose from a reduction in the national total and a more equitable distribution. In the East Midlands, West Midlands and Yorkshire and The Humber, Labour are well represented, but have smaller average seat sizes than the Conservatives. In the North West and in Wales Labour are well represented, the average seat sizes in Labour seats are similar to Conservative seats, but the regional average seat sizes are smaller than the England and Wales average. Smaller average seat sizes in these regions will hit Labour harder than the Conservatives due to Labour’s higher representation.
The only exception to the England and Wales picture is London. The region has larger than average constituencies at present, the average constituency size of Labour constituencies is bigger than Conservative constituencies and over 60% of the 73 constituencies are Labour held. But still the region and Labour lose seats, though proportionately less than elsewhere.
The effect of the revisions in shown in the average seat size. In Figure 3 with less seats the average seat size increases, but in some regions by far more than others, resulting in much less regional variation from the proposed boundary changes.

Figure 4 emphasizes the more even distribution of seat size. Currently, the variation of average constituency by region from England and Wales average is between -14740 (Wales) and +4517 (South East). Under the proposals, the variation is between -1160 (East Midlands) and + 2135 (London). https://manicbeancounter.files.wordpress.com/2016/09/fig4variationewave.jpg

In London’s case it could be argued for another two constituencies, but this is hardly significant. Also, given that London MPs spend their week far nearer to their constituents than any other region, an extra 2-3% of people to represent is hardly a burden.
Finally I have done my own estimated impact on Labour, Conservative and Green seats based on changes in regional seat average sizes in Figure 5. If though I do not include the Lib-Dems, the results are very similar to UK Polling Report. The much more even (and therefore fairer) distribution of seats, along with a modest reduction in the total, disadvantages the Labour Party far more than the Conservatives, despite having two-thirds of the seats.

The Labour Party MPs who are doubting the independence of the Boundary Commission should apologize. The evidence is clearly against them.

Kevin Marshall

Going for Brexit or denying the EU Referendum

The Rt Hon David Davies MP and Secretary of State for Exiting the EU gave an update to the House of Commons today. He made quite clear what Brexit means

Naturally, people want to know what Brexit will mean.
Simply, it means the UK leaving the European Union. We will decide on our borders, our laws, and taxpayers’ money.
It means getting the best deal for Britain – one that is unique to Britain and not an ‘off the shelf’ solution. This must mean controls on the numbers of people who come to Britain from Europe – but also a positive outcome for those who wish to trade in goods and services.

He went on to lay out the principles on which Britain would proceed.

…as we proceed, we will be guided by some clear principles. First, as I said, we wish to build a national consensus around our position. Second, while always putting the national interest first, we will always act in good faith towards our European partners. Third, wherever possible we will try to minimise any uncertainty that change can inevitably bring. And, fourth, crucially, we will – by the end of this process – have left the European Union, and put the sovereignty and supremacy of this Parliament beyond doubt.

On other words Britain will Brexit is in a very British fashion.

– It will be from principles, not from specific objectives or adhering to specific rules.
– Britain will act honourably, something that the British have long been known for commercial dealings.
– It will recognize that other EU members have interests as well. The outcome being aimed for is where Britain’s relationship to the EU is based on co-operation and trade where both sides are net winners.
– At the end of the process Britain will have a more sovereign Parliament. That is, the democratically elected Government will be able to decide the future course of country, for better or worse.

Text is at ConservativeHome
Emily Thornberry MP, speaking for the Labour Party, gave a somewhat different perspective from about 13:10

– Strategy consists of clearly laid out and concrete plan.
– There are areas of policy that should placed outside of the scope of a sovereign Parliament, such “workers rights” and guarantees for EU Nationals currently resident in the UK.
– A “positive vision” consists of definite objectives.
– You listen to outside gloomy prophesies that support your perspective.
– The Government are now rushing to start negotiation, without a well-thought plan. Given that the Government is delaying triggering Article 50 until 2017, the means she is wanting a slower pace. But on 24th June when the referendum result was announced, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn was all for triggering Article 50 straight away. Is this another open split with the Labour Leader, or an about-face in Labour policy?
– Article 50 should not be triggered without a parliamentary vote to authorize.

On triggering Article 50 David Davies pointed out 20.35 there was a referendum bill that went through the House of Commons, and was voted for 6 to 1. Emily Thornberry voted in favour. It was made perfectly clear by the then Foreign Secretary at the time that the EU referendum was not a consultation, or an advice to parliament, but a decision by the electorate. The words of the Act do not state that, but people were lead to believe that in the campaign. Most importantly Will Straw, leader of Britain Stronger in Europe (the official Remain campaign) said the decision was for the voters.

RE: THE FACTS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT EU AND THE REFERENDUM
On 23rd June you will get to vote on the EU Referendum and decide whether Britain remains in or leaves Europe.

Apart from the inaccuracy of naming the decision as whether to leave the geographical continent rather than the political organisation, the statement could not be clearer. Yet the losers in the Referendum want to re-interpret the meaning of the result.

Kevin Marshall

The EU Referendum – The end of the Labour Party or the United Kingdom?

In the previous post I used Chris Hanretty’s estimated the referendum vote split for the 574 parliamentary constituencies in England and Wales to look at the pattern of voting. In particular I found that a disproportionate number of the constituencies with strong votes either for remaining in the EU or leaving the EU have a Labour Party MP.

The graphic below shows the split by region for constituencies with Labour MPs. The strongest Remain votes are concentrated in London, whilst the majority of constituencies voted for Leave.

This is not the full picture. Most of the Labour Party MPs still have a desire to become the party of Government. At a minimum, they would have to win enough seats to become the largest party to have a chance of power. Of the 573 parliamentary seats in England and Wales Labour came second in 212. Of these, 58 had majorities of less than 12% of the popular vote. This would mean winning 56 from the Conservatives and 2 from the Liberal Democrats.

The problem for Labour is that these target constituencies exhibit similar patterns to the existing Labour constituencies. That is, there was support for Remain in London, and support for Leave in much of the rest of the country.  The differences between existing and target Labour seats are slight. The proportion of seats that voted Leave is slightly higher (78% against 69%), whilst the constituencies that voted at least 60% Leave is lower (29% against 39%) when compared to existing Labour constituencies.

Adding these target seats to the existing seats makes very little difference to the split between London and the rest of England and Wales, except for downgrading the relative importance of London in relation to the Midlands and the North West of England.

The elephant in the room is Scotland, where Labour lost 40 seats to the SNP. It is likely that every single one of these voted to Remain in the EU. This compares to just 8 Labour losses in England and Wales, everyone to the Conservatives and 7 calculated by Chris Hanretty to have voted for Leave. To make themselves electable in Scotland and maintain support in London where up to 40% of the membership live, Labour must support some policy of opposing Brexit. But this would scupper their chances of winning more seats most of England and Wales, and might help maintain support for UKIP. This is particularly true in the North and Midlands where UKIP are strongest. This is illustrated in the table below.

This gives the biggest issue of them all. If Labour manage to revive from their present turmoil and become the largest party at the next election, then the price of power might be the breakup of the United Kingdom. But this is unlikely to happen if in 2020 Brexit remains the over-riding political issue. If Brexit ceases to be an issue, Jeremy Corbyn, in hanging onto power might be doing the country a service by ensuring the breakup of the Labour Party into two unelectable factions.

Kevin Marshall

 

 

The rising costs of the Renewables Obligation Certificate Scheme

Summary

The cost of Renewables Obligation Certificate scheme ROCs to covert the UK to renewable electricity has more than doubled in less than four years. Whilst the majority of this increase is down to volume increases and inflation, a significant part is down to switching to higher levels of subsidy, particularly for offshore wind farms. This means that the unit cost of electricity from renewables is rising. One wonders if the DECC has factored this into its projected costs of energy to households.

Main Analysis

In my previous posting “Labour’s Hypocrisy on Rising Energy Bills”, I identified that the rise in energy bills over the last few years was mostly due to rising costs external to the energy companies. I only briefly alluded to the causes. This posting looks at the growth in “Renewables Obligation Certificates” (ROCs), the major vehicle to encourage the energy industry to switch to renewables from fossil fuels. Working out the proportion of the “other cost” increases is difficult to work out, but it could be up to a half.

On the 19th December, the Department for Environment, Energy and Climate Change (DECC), issued a great rash of postings to its website. Amongst these of particular interest was “Energy trends section 6: renewables“. This contains a spreadsheet of interest – ET 6.3 “Renewables obligation: certificates and generation”. This gives monthly data covering the period January 2010 to August 2013.

Not all renewables are equal. Different types of renewables attract different ROC rates per MWh (megawatt-hour) of electricity generated. These vary from 0.25 to 5.00. In practice more than 99% of renewable power generated falls into four bands – 0.50, 1.00, 1.50 and 2.00.

Charting the electricity generated in megawatt hours for the period gives the following graph:-


In less than 4 years there has been a spectacular growth in total electricity generated from renewables, from around 1.5m MWh per month in early 2010, to over 3.0m in early 2013. But there has been even greater growth in the generation of renewables with 2.00 ROCs, and the disappearance of the 0.50 ROCs. This can be better seen by the proportions of generation in each of the ROC bands.


In early 2010, less than 5% of renewables generated qualified for 2 ROCs, whereas by 2013 over 20% did. To show the impact more clearly I have devised three indexes. These include all ROC bands for declarations on a monthly basis. (A very tiny number of schemes have annual declarations.)

  1. Renewable electricity generated qualifying for ROCs.
  2. Renewable Obligation Certificates issued.
  3. The buy-out value of the ROCs. This value is declared by the regulator OFGEM, and inflated each year by the Retail Prices Index. The 2013/14 declaration is here, with all the previous rates.

The index is for 12 month periods, with the period January to December 2010 set to 100.


From the period Jan-Dec 2010 to the period Sept 2012-Aug 2013, volume of renewables electricity generated increased by 80%; volume of ROCs by 116%; and value of ROCs by 140%.

There is a rapid growth in renewables, but the real cost per unit generated is increasing more rapidly. In buy-out values terms, the ROCs issued were worth £862m for Jan-Dec 2010 and £2,069m for Sept 2012-Aug 2013. But what type of renewable is responsible for this real cost per unit increase?

The Growth in Wind Turbine generation and ROCs

A major component of renewables has always been wind turbines, but the proportion is increasing. They are split between onshore and offshore. There are three graphs showing this increase.

  1. The proportion of renewables generated from Wind Turbines


    This shows that not only has the proportion of generation from wind turbines increased from around 40% to nearly 60%. More than 100% of the increased proportion is due to offshore wind turbines with 2.00 ROCs per MWh generated.

  2. Wind generated ROCs as a proportion of ROCs issued


    The share of total ROCS for wind turbines now accounts for over 60% of the total. Around 30% is from offshore wind turbines with 2.00 ROCs per MWh generated.

  3. Index of Changes in Renewables Obligation Credits for wind turbines.


From the period Jan-Dec 2010 to the period Sept 2012-Aug 2013, volume of renewables electricity generated increased by 134%; volume of ROCs by 177%; and value of ROCs by 209%. In buy-out values terms, the ROCs issued for wind turbines were worth £426m (49% of the total) for Jan-Dec 2010 and £1,315m (64% of the total) for Sept 2012-Aug 2013.

The true cost of offshore wind power

This analysis has solely concentrated on ET 6.3. The “Renewable electricity capacity and generation” (ET 6.1) file has some useful data on load factors. For wind turbines I have extracted the annual data.


Offshore wind turbines have around 35% higher load factors than onshore.

The vast majority of income for wind turbines is in two parts. There is the wholesale price at around £60 per MWh and the ROC income, which is £42 for onshore and £84 for offshore.

Per annum, with 35% more load, the offshore wind farm can expect about 90% more income per MWh of capacity than the onshore to cover capital and maintenance costs. It is even worse when compared with the gas-fired alternative. The only income for the generator is the £60 per MWh from selling wholesale, but they have the additional costs of at least £20 per MWh for fuel.

Biomass

An area not covered is the growth in the use of Biomass / other fuels at coal-fired power stations. This will be in a posting next year.

Questions on the subsidising of offshore wind turbines

  1. Given that prior to 2010 offshore wind farms were being commissioned with ROCs of 1.00 and 1.50, how much of this increased rate of 2.0 accommodates greater costs (more distant from the shore, and in deeper water) and how much gives greater profits?
  2. Given that a gas-fired power station can cover its operating and capital costs with less than £40 per MWh, should we be considering alternative, and less reliable, forms of electricity generation that seem to need up to four times the income to operate?
  3. Was any independent studies done of the costs of wind-generated power in setting the ROC rates, or was it just on the advice of the renewables industry and a DECC desperate to meet its carbon budget?
  4. Have the DECC factored in the need to give ever higher levels of subsidies to meet renewables targets?

Kevin Marshall

Ed Miliband fails to link to New Year Message

At 2.05pm on 30/12/13 I got a New Year message from Ed Milliband


Manic Beancounter,

Later today, my New Year’s message for 2014 will be released. I want you to see it first.

Across the country this year, people often asked me if I understand the severity of the cost-of-living crisis, and what a Labour government could do differently to tackle it. It’s a good and fair question.

Here’s the answer I’ve been giving to the members, supporters and voters who ask — and which I also want to share with you:


Watch my New Year’s message

We’ve achieved an amazing amount together over the last twelve months: we’ve built our campaign across the country and — because of the generosity of supporters like you — we now have an organiser lined up for each one of our key seats.

If we work hard, listen to people, and make our case right, this will be the last full year of this Tory-led government.

With my very best wishes for 2014; I know we’re going to achieve more great things together.

Ed


 

 
 

Problem is, when I click on this message I get

Oops! Google Chrome could not find a_ction.labour.org.uk

Did you mean: labour.org.uk

We all make mistakes, but Labour seem to be making a habit of it. On the flagship “Freeze that Bill” policy

  1. No link to the policy content on the Labour Party website.

Go to http://www.labour.org.uk/home and you will still find


This still takes me to this page.


There is still no way you can link to Ed’s Energy Plan, as announced on 29th November, from the Labour Party Website. For those interested it can be found here.

2. On the video there is still a faulty link. 

At 1.22 to 1.26 Labour put up a websitehttp://www.labour.org.uk/freezethatbill

    When it should be

        http://www.labour.org.uk/freeze-that-bill


3. On Ed’s message is a bogus link

At http://www.labour.org.uk/freezethatbill there is a link to freezethatbill.com. This actually links in to

Labour are meant to be the party of slick presentation and spin. Clearly they are missing Peter Mandelson and Alistair Campbell.

Kevin Marshall

Labour’s Hypocrisy on Rising Energy Bills

If you go to the Labour Party’s website there is an announcement.

Clicking down will take you to energy price calculator. I found out with Ed’s policy I could save £112 per year.

Two weeks after the announcement, still no links to the actual plan, but there is a video to watch.

Just one minute and twenty-six seconds for a distinguished actor to say the following:-

How do you feel when you see your energy bill sitting at the front door and you know that it is going to be even higher than the last one?

And how do you feel when you read in the newspaper that your energy providers’ profits are up yet again?

Millions of ordinary families are struggling to keep up with bills. Bills that are rising faster than wages.

Since David Cameron became Prime Minister, he’s allowed gas and electricity to rise by an average of £300 a year and sat by as energy companies make record profits. Under this Government a privileged few come before hard-families. Ed Miliband and Labour are going to change that. Ed’s energy plan will mean a tough new regulator with the power to challenge the energy companies and keep prices down. Under Ed’s energy plan gas and electricity bills will be frozen. That’s right frozen. Under the Tories you have overpaid. Labour will fight the cost of living crisis and build an economy that works for working people.

The inference is that your bills are rising solely due to the ever-increasing profits of the energy companies. Further the nasty Tories had it in their power stop it. Along will come Labour and stop all that.

I have looked up the figures. Since the 2009, the energy regulator OFGEM has required the six big energy companies to produce financial data by five segments. That is for electricity generation, along with supply data for electricity and gas, each split between domestic and non-domestic supply. I have analysed all four years of data for the six companies, using links provided by OFGEM. There is, of course, no financial data available for 2013 as the year has yet to finish.

If Labour are correct in their inference of price rises being due to increasing profits then profits will be increasing as a percentage of sales. With the typical household’s bill rising by over 20% between May 2010 and the end of 2012, profits as a percentage of revenue would be rising sharply. The following shows the percentage components of revenue.

The narrow band in purple for profit increased from 1.8% of sales to 3.8%. It is not increasing profits that have caused the price rises. The reason for doubling is because, in total, the six major companies lost money on gas supply in 2009. Nor is there a sharp difference between domestic and non-domestic supply margins. You could claim that the energy companies are making more money on generation instead. They are not, as the full margins, by segment, by year, show below.

The total sales breakdown enhances the picture.

Although total are broadly the same in 2009 and 2012, revenue from domestic customers was 13%, whilst that from non-domestic customers was 17% lower. The reason Labour have a higher figure is they rely on OFGEM’s notional average user, who uses the same amount of energy year-in-year out. Real hard-working families have responded to rising prices by reducing consumption.

What is most important is why unit costs have risen. Labour are correct when they say it is not due to the wholesale price of energy. As already demonstrated, they are incorrect to say it is due to rising profits. The real reason is “other costs”. These rose from 32% to 40% of revenue in just four years. That is from £14.1bn to £17.7bn in just four years or a 25% increase. On declining volumes this is more significant for consumers.

These figures are corroborated by a breakdown by my energy supplier, Scottish Power.

With VAT at 5%, the Scottish power says that its charges to the domestic customer in 2013 are made up of 53% for fuel and 43% for other charges. This compares to the industry average in 2012 of 55.7% for fuel and 40.6% for “other costs” plus “amortization”. The higher proportion of other charges to domestic customers is to be expected, as small domestic customers have lower costs. The relevant domestic figures from the big six are 51.8% for fuel and 44.0% for other charges. Given the obviously rounded Scottish Power figures, they are remarkably close to the industry average.

The supply market is fiercely competitive, hence the real reason for the ability of customers to save money by switching suppliers. Therefore it is doubtful that internal costs will have risen. What has risen is the delivery of the energy to the home (National Grid, local delivery, and cost of meters), along with green levies. So it is likely over 75% of the price increases to the customer are due to factors outside of the energy supplier’s control.

Where does responsibility lie for the above-inflation price increases?

The dash for “clean” energy to save the planet is enshrined in the Climate Change Act 2008. It was pushed through the House of Commons when Ed Miliband was Environment Secretary. This accelerated the growth in green levies and the requirement for a more extensive grid network to carry the wind-generated electricity from remote turbines. Delve further in the profits on electricity generation and you will find that fossil fuel generation has margins of 10%. A price freeze will eliminate the supply profits in six months, and the generation profits in two years. The is a sure way to get a near monopoly in gas supply, and cause the rapid shut-down of three-quarters of generating capacity. It is an act of gross hypocrisy by Ed Miliband to threaten to destroy a competitive industry to remedy a problem that he is responsible for.

 

NB First time comments are moderated. The comments can be used as a point of contact.

Kevin Marshall

Notes Labour’s Analysis of the Energy Market

Labour’s Green Paper on Energy has been found by Alex Cull (comment at Dec 2, 2013 at 1:03 PM) at the site “Your Britain“, in the Agenda 2015 section. Having read it, I can see why the Labour Party are not keen for the electorate to find the document. Some quick observations, that I believe are sufficient to show that Labour have not bottomed out the only, let alone the best, explanation of why retail prices have risen so fast in last few years. What this clearly shows is that Labour’s proposed policy freeze is not just misplaced; it is positively harmful to Britain having future low-cost and secure energy supplies.

Note 03/12/13: This post will be added to over the coming days.

Update 04/12/13: Note on declining investment in “clean energy”

Billions not Millions

The Executive Summary states

Lack of competition in the retail market has resulted in consumers paying £3.6m more than they need to each year.

Caption to Table 1 on page 7 states

Lack of competition in the retail market has resulted in consumers paying £3.6 billion more than they need to

Error in Calculation

The source of the £3.6bn is from Which?

The consumer group Which? found that 75 per cent of customers are on the most expensive tariffs offered by suppliers – their standard tariff – and are not getting the cheapest deal in the market. They estimate that since 2011, families across the country have paid £3.6 billion a year more than they need to as a result. That means that households are on average paying £136 each year because the retail market is not working in the way that a competitive market should. If this market was genuinely competitive, energy companies would face stronger incentives to drive their costs down and pass savings to consumers through lower prices and cheaper tariffs; but this is not happening.

That implies that

  1. In a perfectly competitive market, the single price would be the very cheapest rate available.
  2. As a consequence the big six energy companies are pocketing the difference.

So, there is a monopoly profit of greater than £3.6bn. Ofgem monitors the big six energy firms. The BBC reported on 25th November that

Overall, profits in generation and supply across the half-dozen firms fell from £3.9bn in 2011 to £3.7bn in 2012.

So the competitive market profit fell from £0.3bn to £0.1bn? I don’t think so. The price differential is due to competition working, not due to its’ failure. Like in many areas, if you shop around you can get a better deal than those who do not, as sellers will discount to win your business. If you do not shop around, you will get a bad deal. Look at insurance, hotel rooms, flights or even consumer goods. Reducing competition will cause profits will rise, and the savvy consumer will lose out. Regulate enough and even those who never haggle will not get a good deal.

Decline in those switching suppliers

…. a confusing system of 900 tariffs makes it hard for consumers to actively engage in this market. Since 2008, the number of people switching energy supplier has fallen by over 50 per cent, and switching levels are now at the lowest level on record. Low levels of switching means that the big energy companies have a ‘captured market’ which reduces the incentives to keep prices competitive.

Fig 1 shows a decline in number of people transferring between suppliers between year to year. This shows a decline from around … to …. Is this evidence of a decline?

All other things being equal, then it is evidence of declining competitiveness. But all other things are not equal. A supplier can take action to retain the business. There is passive action and non-passive action.

Passive action is when the customer tries to move away, or threatens to. They are can offered a better deal to retain the business.

Proactive action is to offer the customer a better deal. For instance, I moved supplier in 2012 on a 12 month contract. In July, just before the end of the deal, the supplier offered me their best deal. This I accepted, after a quick check.

A decline in transfers could therefore be due to suppliers taking action to retain custom. This saves on their costs, and consumer’s inconvenience, whilst keeping the market competitive. As the cost to energy companies is less, this can keep overall costs down.

A test of this is to look at the differential between the standard tariff and the competitive tariffs over time for each supplier. If that has widened over time in line with the decrease in those switching then the Labour Party are correct. If it has widened, I would be surprised given the increasing number and sophistication of the price comparison websites. It would be a failure both of government policy over many years and the market to respond to those incentives.

Differential between wholesale and retail prices

Figure 2 on page 11 is meant illustrate for the electricity and gas markets how the wholesale prices have stayed roughly the same, but the retail prices have widened. The graphic for the electricity market is shown below.

The explanation is as follows.

Wholesale energy prices have been relatively stable since the winter of 2011, rising by an average of 1 per cent a year. However, the large energy companies have increased energy prices by an average of 10.4 per cent a year over this period (Figure 3). This has led to a growing gap between wholesale and retail prices that cannot be explained by the growth in network costs or policy costs which account for 20 per cent and nine per cent of the bill respectively.

So the explanation is derived from the following logic

  1. Prices have risen by over 30% in the last 3 years.
  2. Wholesale prices form the biggest part of the cost to the consumer and have not moved very much.
  3. Other costs have grown, but now only account for 29% of the bill.
  4. By implication, the profits of the energy companies have increased at the expense of the consumer.

Let us first assume that the scales are comparable. The left hand scale is the wholesale cost in £/MWh. The right hand scale in the average annual retail cost per household. In 2010 the average household was paying about £430 for their electricity, compared with £550 in Jan-2013. The wholesale price component rose from around £280 to £310. So “other costs” rose by around £90. This is a huge increase in costs. With around 26 million households, this is around £2.4bn – well on the way to accounting for the £3.6bn claimed above. There is gas as well remember, so there could be an argument.

But what are the other costs?

These include

  1. Standing charges. The costs of operating the National Grid, and replacing meters in homes, along with subsidies for the poor.
  2. Renewables Obligations (RO) and Feed-in-tariffs (FIT). That is the subsidies that the owners of wind turbines and solar panels get over and above the wholesale price of electricity. For instance, operators of offshore wind turbines will get a similar amount in RO as from the market price.
  3. The small, but growing STOR scheme.
  4. The fixed costs of the retail operation. That is the staff to produce the bills, operate the call centres, along with the cost of a sales force to get you to switch.
  5. The net is the retail margin.

Let us assume that “network costs or policy costs” and policy costs doubled in three years as a proportion of the total electricity bill. That is from 14.5% to 29%. That would be £97 of the £90 increase in margin. This hypothetical example needs to be tested with actual data. However, the lack of the rise in profits is corroborated by OFGEM figures for the Big 6 Energy Companies, as I summarized out last week.

The margins on “supply” have not increased, and are still at the level of a discount supermarket. The margins on “generation” derive from selling at wholesale and the proceeds of the subsidies. Unless Labour are implying that the “Big 6” are guilty of false reporting to OFGEM, the vast majority of the increase in differential between wholesale cost and selling price is accounted for by factors other than profits to the energy companies. Labour are implying the vast majority of the increase in differential between wholesale cost and selling price is accounted for by the profits to the energy companies, and therefore misleading the electorate.

Interpretation of clean energy investment figures

Figure 4 is the following chart

The fall in investment, at a time when it should be accelerating, is a result of the policy environment and protracted decision-making by Government. The Government has been widely blamed for failing to provide the policy certainty needed to de-risk investment.

There is an alternative way to interpret this data. Labour lost the general election in May 2010. What might be more significant is the passage of the Climate Change Act 2008. In the next year investment was nearly 3 times higher, then falling each year since. The Climate Change Act 2008 greatly enhanced the incentives for “clean energy” investment, hence the leap. There are only a finite number of opportunities, so the investment is reducing year-on-year. This being despite the biggest source of revenue coming from index-linked subsidies loaded onto electricity bills. Another reason is that many in the industry saw problems with the technology, that are only now coming to light. In particular the lifespan of the turbines might be shorter than previously thought. Further, the opposition to the wind turbines (where most of the investment is concentrated) is increasing, such as against the proposed Atlantic Array that would have blighted the Bristol Channel. Campaigners are also increasingly concerned about noise pollution.

Therefore, I propose that declining investment is not due to Government spin doctors failing to sweet-talk big business, but due to the reality of “clean energy” turning out to fall far short of the sales patter.

NB First time comments are moderated. The comments can be used as a point of contact.

Kevin Marshall

Ed Milibands claims to have published an “energy green paper” untrue

Update 20.00

I owe the Ed Miliband and the Labour Party an apology with reservations. They did publish an “energy green paper” on Friday. The reservations are

  1. It was published at http://www.yourbritain.org.uk/agenda-2015/policy-review/policy-review/energy-green-paper. (Alexa, has no country data for the site)
  2. My mistake was to use the key words “Labour Energy Green Paper” in my bing search. There is (7pm) no reference to this in the first 50 hits, but there are references to the Labour Party website. Even the Chelmsford Weekly News article (No Alexa country data for this site) makes 20.
  3. The Labour Party Website (UK Alexa rank 9,080) still does not reference the document.
  4. The website referred to on the video (http://www.labour.org.uk/freezethatbill) is inaccurate. It should read http://www.labour.org.uk/freeze-that-bill. Even here you will not find a link to the energy green paper.

My mistake, in accusing Ed Miliband of not publishing the paper when he had, was due to a misconception. I assumed that Labour Party spin doctors would be super-efficient, and so the failure to publish would be due to simple, but embarrassing, clerical errors. Having now read the paper, it would seem to go a bit deeper than that.

 

Labour’s claim to have published a green paper on energy is untrue. There is no link on the internet to any document, whether freely available, or to purchase.

BishopHill reported on Friday 29th November that Labour Party leader Ed Miliband had launched a “Green paper on energy”, proposing a freeze in energy price is Labour wins power in 2015. At the BBC there is a video of Ed Miliband saying

…and what Britain needs is Labour’s strong and credible plan, that we are publishing today, to freeze energy prices until 2017 and reform a broken energy market so it properly works for business and families.

As I always like to read the original source material, I went to look for it.

Tried at http://www.labour.org.uk/news, which announces:-

The Energy Green Paper sets out the steps a One Nation Labour government will take while we reset the market during the 20 month price freeze to ensure energy is affordable and available…

But no link on the site to a pdf, neither a link to a shop where I might procure a paper copy of the green paper.

It gets worse. In the home page, the lower part for the last couple of days has this:-


It says

Read Ed Miliband’s energy plan

The link is to http://action.labour.org.uk/page/s/energy-calculator/.


No details of the plan. No details of the links to a plan. But there is a link to a video of 1.26 minutes long.

At 1.22 there is a link to “labour.org.uk/freezethatbill”.


This takes me straight back to http://action.labour.org.uk/page/s/energy-calculator. The details do not exist.

Further, there is no link at the BBC, The Mirror, The Guardian, at Sky News, nor a number of other websites that have run the story.

The Labour Spin Doctors have been so concerned to get out the media message, they forgot the substance.

Kevin Marshall

 

 

Energy Firms making bigger AND smaller profits

We have heard a lot recently about how rising electricity and gas prices are a result of the large profits of the energy companies. Ed Milliband went on the attack at the Labour Party Conference, proposing a price freeze if Labour gets into power. With energy prices going up 10% a year I wandered how large these profits must be. The BBC today gives some clues.

Regulator Ofgem says the big six energy suppliers saw profit margins in the supply of gas and electricity rise to 4.3% in 2012, up from 2.8% in 2011.

And the watchdog says supplier profit per household customer rose to £53 last year, from £30 a year earlier.

However, the power generation profit margins at the firms fell from 24% in 2011 to 20% in 2012.

Overall, profits in generation and supply across the half-dozen firms fell from £3.9bn in 2011 to £3.7bn in 2012.

So the retail profits have increased, but the overall profits have decreased. This is despite turnover having increased due a large hike in prices. It is a incorrect to say that the double-digit price increases paid for larger profits of the big six energy suppliers. The following tries to explain why.

Ofgem has not uploaded this latest data to its website, so I have to piece together from what is available. Factsheet 118 details the comparison of 2011 with 2010. It says

 

•     the average profit margin across all six suppliers for

supplying gas and electricity to homes and businesses

declined from 3.8 per cent in 2010 to 3.1 per cent in

2011

•     the margins in generation, however, increased from

18.4 per cent in 2010 to 24.4 per cent in 2011. This is

because of higher wholesale electricity prices. Typical

generation margins also tend to be higher than in supply

to finance the capital investment needed to build power

stations.

A summary of these figures is below


In other words, there is mostly an about face from the very profitable 2011, but still much higher profits than in 2010.

Given that the profits from power generation are much higher, we need to look at this more closely. What should be recognized is the relevant rate of return generation is not ROS (Return on Sales), but ROCE (Return on Capital Employed). An indicator of this can be gleaned from Ofgem’s summaries of the major’s accounts for 2011.

For example, Scottish power has two power sectors. In 2011 it had an EBIT of 168.5 on sales of 1677.0 on “generation” and EBIT of 91.0 on sales of 172.0 on “renewables”. So the older generation has a ROS of just 10%, and the newer, cleaner, renewables a ROS of 53%. To some extent this is not surprising. Renewables – mostly wind turbines – require a huge upfront capital investment, but low operating costs. Also, the renewables capital stock is much newer. But an additional figure is also revealing – the terra-watt hours sold. The “generation” produces £82.60m/TWh, whilst “renewables” produces £101.20m/TWh.

The only other producer to give a split of energy generation is EDF energy, only this time between nuclear and non-nuclear. For nuclear power, the ROS is 40% and £48m/TWh, and for non-nuclear power, the ROS is 10% and £47m/TWh. With Hinckley C, the guaranteed index-linked rate is a minimum £92.50m/TWh.

Thoughts

  1. The large profits are in power generation.
  2. The profits in terms of ROS will increase with new investments, even if ROCE stays the same.
  3. The profits in terms of ROS will additionally increase with the investment in renewables and nuclear, even if ROCE stays the same as initial outlay per unit of electricity is much higher, and the operating costs are tiny, when compared with a coal or gas-fired power stations.
  4. Higher capital investment will mean above-inflation rises in headline profits and ROS, even if the proper measure of profit for generation – ROCE – stays the same.
  5. The responsibility for the Climate Change Act 2008, that generates the higher ROS figures (and much more expensive electricity) is primarily due to the last Labour Government. It was steered through by the then Environment Secretary Ed Miliband. To freeze retail prices will reduce the ROCE of the energy companies, giving a clear signal not to invest in the power generating capacity to stop the lights going out. If you want lower prices and profits, then have a truly liberalized market with fossil fuels given equal status.

Kevin Marshall