As British Gas shareholders gather at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference centre in Westminster today for the Centrica AGM, so too will protesters from over 20 anti-austerity, anti-privitisation and environmental groups.
Under the banner of ‘Bin British Gas: Put Power in Public Hands!’ Fuel Poverty Action alongside groups including Lambeth Pensioners’ Action Group, Friends of the Earth, Single Mothers’ Self Defense, World Development Movement, Disabled People against Cuts and Frack Off London will gather outside the British Gas parent company Centrica’s Annual General Meeting to challenge the energy system’s biggest player who make their profits from pushing households into poverty and polluting our climate.
Fuel Poverty Action also held a protest outside the AGM last year when Centrica bosses spoke of how they would avoid putting up prices in the winter coming. Instead, they hiked their prices by 9.2 per cent in the autumn. These hikes lead to many more British Gas customers being forced to be in the cold and darkness this winter, simply unable to meet the cost of energy, and we know that it is the poorest households with young children, single parents, people with disabilities and pensioners who are most punished by Big Six profiteering.
What’s more, despite it being a mild winter, which should have led to lower household energy bills, recent figures show that even more households had fallen into debt with their energy supplier this winter owing to those price hikes. An estimated four million households are now in debt to their supplier, with many owing more than they did this time last year.
Whilst Centrica bosses may well use their AGM to discuss their slightly decreased profits (British Gas made £600 million profit in 2012/2013 whilst it’s parent company Centrica made £2.7bn profit) campaigners want energy for heating and eating and energy that does not compromise our envrionmental future to be at the top of the agenda instead. With 10,000 deaths from fuel poverty last winter, an estimated one in four families struggling to pay their bills and reports of households taking out pay-day loans to meet their energy bills, now really is the time to challenge British Gas and the Big Six’s profiteering. We need to push for a new energy system which puts people needs and rights, not profits, first.
Centrica have also invested £100 million in fracking in Lancashire which has motivated Lancashire anti-fracking residents to make the trip to London, buy Centrica shares and speak directly to the board about their fears of what fracking will do to their community. When fears about fracking are coupled with clear evidence from the scientific community on the need for urgent action on climate change and immediate reduction in usage of fossil fuels, if we are to be able to live and grow food in the future, the need to move away from the business model that the likes of British Gas promote becomes yet clearer.
The message of the Bin British Gas protest is one of challenging the energy status quo as well as the beginning of a fight for an energy future that works for people and planet, and public and community energy is a vital part of this better energy future. Community organisations across London and the UK are already leading the way with community-owned solar energy projects, based in deprived communities and they are already successfully delivering skills, qualifications, reduced energy bills and reduced carbon emissions. Check out Brixton energy Coop to learn of their success, or follow the progress of EnergySE London- a new solar coop being set up in Lewisham- who will also be speaking at the protest.
We are using the British Gas AGM as an opportunity to get together with dozens of groups and individuals to push together for what we desperately need; an affordable, sustainable and publicly and community owned energy system. We hope that if you can’t join us on the streets of Westminster today that you will at another time, we need a critical mass of people to make this vision a reality.