Johnson urges power companies to act ‘in the national interest’

Some of the biggest energy bosses met Boris Johnson in Downing Street on Thursday to discuss the mounting energy crisis. But the point of the meeting remained unclear, with the prime minster insisting any new action would be taken by his replacement in September. Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt reports on what No. 10 hopefuls Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss are proposing

Boris Johnson has appealed to electricity companies to act “in the national interest” to help ease the pressure on vulnerable consumers in the face of soaring energy prices.

Following roundtable talks in Downing Street, the prime minister said the Government will continue to work with the sector – however there was no new announcement of immediate help for hard-pressed families.

While Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi said ministers are continuing to monitor the “extraordinary profits” some companies are making, Mr Johnson made clear any “significant fiscal decisions” will be for his successor.

Nadhim Zahawi. Credit: PA

The prime minister stressed in the face of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine which is driving prices to record levels, it is important the sector works with the Government “in the national interest”.

Officials said he made clear it is vital the Western world continues to stand by the Ukrainian people in their fight for survival.

Mr Johnson said in a statement: “Following our meeting today, we will keep urging the electricity sector to continue working on ways we can ease the cost-of-living pressures and to invest further and faster in British energy security.”

Michael Lewis, E.On chief executive and Ofgem chief executive Jonathan Brearley arriving in Downing Street to discuss rising energy prices. Credit: PA

Mr Zahawi added: “In the spirit of national unity, they agreed to work with us to do more to help the people who most need it.”

The crisis meeting was called after analysts warned earlier this week that average annual household energy bills are set to top £4,200 by the start of next year.

Is there any prospect of help for struggling households from the government in the coming weeks? Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt has more

While the talks – which were also attended by Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng – had been billed in advance, the prime minister’s presence had not been announced beforehand.

The Treasury said the discussions had focused on how the Government and industry can collectively drive forward reforms to ensure the market works better for consumers.

Officials said ministers had made clear that it was not always functioning in the interests of consumers and the “extraordinarily high bills” will ultimately damage the companies themselves.

At the same time they emphasised the need for continued investment in domestic energy sources – including North Sea oil and gas, renewables, biomass and nuclear – to strengthen UK energy security.

Mr Zahawi said the Government is continuing to evaluate the “appropriate and proportionate steps to take” in the face of the “extraordinary profits” being racked up by some in the sector.

However Liz Truss, the frontrunner in the Tory leadership contest, has already made clear that she opposes any further windfall tax on their profits.

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Following the meeting, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey condemned the failure of ministers to come forward with new support.

“It is appalling that the Conservatives still haven’t announced any extra support for families and pensioners facing the hardest winter in decades,” he said.

“The cruellest element of this chaos is that those who could actually help, Truss and (Rishi) Sunak, are more interested in speaking to their party than taking the action our country needs.

“That is why the Liberal Democrats are calling on the Government to cancel the energy price hike to avoid a country-wide catastrophe.”