U.K. Opposition Steps Up Push to Nationalize Energy Companies

  • Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party discusses way to control industry
  • Targets could be utilities such as SSE Plc and Centrica

The Ferrybridge coal fired power station, operated by SSE Plc, on Feb. 10, 2016.

Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party is talking more about nationalizing Britain’s energy companies, suggesting it could “take control” of major utilities like SSE Plc and Centrica Plc if the opposition wins the next election.

Key figures at the party’s conference in Brighton this week hinted that Labour is poised to go beyond its current pledges of renationalizing local grid networks, a move they say would to bring down costs for consumers and expand clean energy supplies.

To a standing ovation Corbyn pledged “to take utilities back into public ownership” during his speech to the party conference on Wednesday. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell on Tuesday vowed to bring energy companies under the “ownership and control” of “the people who use and work in them.”

Their promises are broader than the manifesto pledge published in May to only change the licencing arrangements for regional grids in order to take them into public ownership and to make new publicly-owned grid companies that would compete with the Big Six utilities.

Rebecca Long-Bailey, the party’s lawmaker who speaks on business, energy and industrial strategy, explained some of these details at a energy-policy meeting on the sidelines of the conference. The party leadership may be banking on many members confusing the finer points of the manifesto with more popular pledges made on stage.

“We’ve said we want to set up regionally owned energy companies to rival the ‘Big Six’ energy companies and create competition in the market. But that’s not the only thing we want them to do,” Long-Bailey said. “In time we want them to be able to harness the ability to generate electricity on a local level alongside other business in the area.”

CBI business group, which represents British industry, bristled at the idea.

“Forced nationalization of large parts of British industry will send investors running for the hills and puts misplaced nostalgia ahead of progressive vision,” said Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI’s director-general.

The Conservative Party said Labour’s entire nationalization plan of rail, mail, water and energy networks, listed in the manifesto could add at least 134 billion pounds ($180 billion) to the public debt, citing figures from the non-partisan Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Chi Onwurah, a Labour lawmaker speaking on industrial strategy, said nationalizing energy companies wasn’t “a backward step.”

“What isn’t working is what we have now,” Onwurah said at an event at the conference on Monday. “Where we have private sector generation and distribution and a market which his supposed to be competitive but isn’t.”

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