The Cabinet committee of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council met yesterday afternoon, at the Civic Centre. Which doesn’t sound all that exciting, right?
But as I said at the start of this week, it is exactly that sort of committee (Particularly this committee -Ed) at which the bulk of the Council’s work is done. So although I wasn’t able to actually attend, and it sadly isn’t webcast like meetings of the full council are, the agenda and papers for the meeting are certainly worth having a glance over.
Which is how I noticed agenda item 13, “Community Energy Project”, and the attached report. At paragraph 1.1, said report outlines its purpose as a particularly exciting and radical project to be undertaken by the council:
“To seek approval to create a Southend Energy company to provide a direct offer to residents and businesses within the Borough.“
The proposal is outlined a bit more at paragraph 4.1:
“It is proposed that the Council should create its own energy company based around a partnership with OVO. For the purposes of this proposal, the company will be called Southend Energy Company (SEC).“
And at 3.9:
“The OVO scheme will allow the Council to offer local tariffs under its own brand, close to the bottom of the market to any residents within a defined area based on postcodes. The area can be expanded after launch provided it remains within the Postcode Region – i.e. if the scheme is launched within the Southend Borough Council’s area which is broadly represented by SS0, SS1, SS2, SS3 and SS9 postcodes, any other SS postcode can be added at a later stage.“
The report is worth reading in its entirety (No, really -Ed), but those extracts give you the gist of it.
So the council will set up an energy company (under the admittedly dull, but straightforward, name Southend Energy Company), to offer bottom-of-the-market energy prices to residents, with a particular aim to provide the cheapest available tariff to the most vulnerable consumers, likely on prepayment meters. See paragraph 6.1:
“SEC marketing efforts will be targeted at the fuel poor, digitally excluded and PPM… If these clients can be signed up to the proposition, the cash released from lowered tariffs will assist these consumers in paying their bills, heating their homes and alleviating the effects of fuel poverty.“
This is a brilliant idea, and a way that the Council can make a real and noticeable difference for the better in the lives of residents. It is also a marked change in the attitude of the Council to such inequality- and poverty-related issues. By all accounts this has been a possibility for some times, but the previous Conservative administration were not interested in pursuing it. Quite why they were so much more interested in protecting the big energy companies rather than residents of Southend is a question for them.
Party Group, from what I hear, were also not particularly keen. So within the joint administration this has been a Labour-driven initiative, make no mistake. Ian Gilbert deserves particular congratulation, along with Labour councillors Anne Jones and David Norman within the cabinet, for pushing this through.
In Rochford & Southend East, 9.7% of households (note: not residents) are in fuel poverty. This is nearly 1 in every 10 households and shockingly (Appallingly… -Ed) is the highest proportion in Essex. Southend West is not far behind with 8.6% (the fifth worst in Essex). As a local authority, the proportion of households within the borough of Southend-on-Sea who are fuel poor stands at 9.2%.
Labour’s energy price freeze will help those households if we win the general election in May, but this is something which the Council is doing to the benefit of residents, and something of which we can all be proud.
One final point to note is paragraph 5.3:
“One of the options available to SEC will be to lower tariff rates using some of the output from energy generation.“
This means that if Southend Borough Council generate their own energy to feed in through Southend Energy Company (and they already do, to some extent), then they could use that to lower the prices offered. This only strengthens my opinion that the Council should be sticking solar panels on every piece of its property that it can, a subject on which I have heard enthusiasm from a number of Labour councillors. This would generate clean energy, and help alleviate fuel poverty.
Win win, basically, and an idea to warm the body and soul (and home!) on these cold winter mornings.