Northamptonshire County Council leaflets are ‘ads for British Gas’

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Leaflets sent out to homes by Northamptonshire County Council are to be scrutinised amid claims they unfairly 
promote British Gas.

The literature tells residents about ways they can save money through tariffs with the private company and encourages people to ‘call British Gas today’ on a freephone number to switch to a particular tariff.

Michael Brown, the UKIP councillor for Kingsthorpe North, said he would raise the issue at the next finance and resource scrutiny meeting.

He said: “This is no more than an exercise to promote British Gas.

“Basically, they are selling British Gas fixed-price energy, seemingly, with the seal of approval of the county council.

“It is not a “scheme”, it does not reduce fuel poverty as much as would be achieved if people switched to the cheapest overall provider in the market. It does not ‘enable people to take more control over their energy costs’ and nor is it “ensuring they are on the most suitable tariff” .

“It is, in fact, just ensuring they are on a British Gas tariff,” he claimed.

The leaflet, entitled ‘Save money on your energy bills’ features a branded logo on the front reading: ‘In partnership with British Gas’.

It also gives information about how much money and energy may be saved using insulation and British Gas smart meters.

And in the county council white-on-purple font, it urges people to ‘call now to get involved’.

A spokesman for Northamptonshire County Council said: “The council has a strategic alliance in place with British Gas to see how both organisations can work together to bring wider benefits.

“The correspondence was not focussed on the simple energy cost of one of British Gas’s tariffs as this was not the objective of their scheme.

“The correspondence was focused on a wide range of measures that people can use to make energy savings.

“For example, insulation can save customers over £300 per year and a Smart meter can save £65 per year. A free Green Deal Assessment is worth £130, without even including the cashback associated with installations.

“This package is helping the council to identify those most vulnerable and in need of help and also makes people think about switching in general, which is one of the key drivers of Ofgem, and represents what Government is trying to deliver.

“Our alliance with British Gas in no way provides commercial advantage to the county council and it is in no way an illicit act.”

Katie Rose of British Gas said: “British Gas is committed to helping everyone in the community to reduce their energy costs and become more energy efficient. We’re proud to support residents in Northamptonshire to achieve these goals, and provide support to the most vulnerable.

“We apologise for any concern this correspondence has caused. It was designed to highlight a unique offer created for council residents, involving a number of measures which can help to reduce energy costs and make homes more efficient.”

On the British Gas partnership with the county council, Miss Rose said: “Northamptonshire County council and British Gas have formed an open partnership (also known as the Northamptonshire EnergySaver) to help save the residents of Northamptonshire money by lowering their energy bills.

· This is a unique partnership which sees British Gas supporting the council with a wide variety of initiatives benefiting homes and businesses in the short and long term. This is a non-exclusive partnership which will see British Gas support the council with advice and offers to help them meet their strategic goals.

· Initiatives that will be considered over the next few years include:

o A unique and bespoke energy package designed to educate and engage residents so they understand how they use their energy more efficiently and save money on their bills.

The package consists of a personalised comparison to show if they could save money across our full range of tariffs and walks residents through the process of applying for smart meters, the Green Deal and the Energy Company Obligation (ECO), which provides free or discounted energy efficiency measures to eligible households.

Cavity Wall insulation can save customers over £145 per year, loft insulation £150 per year and a Smart meter can save £65 per year. A free Green Deal Assessment (worth £129) will be offered and customers can also access Government cashback to help fund installations.

Miss Rose said: “This package is helping us to identify the vulnerable and those most in need of help through engagement in their energy tariff. There is no obligation for residents to take up this offer but a successful pilot trial has been run in Northampton (Abington Street) and Wellingborough High Street – delivering average savings of £158 per year for each resident from just their energy bill. The leaflet in question refers to this offer.”

· Energy Performance Contracts for Northamptonshire leisure centres, schools and theatres

o A Northamptonshire fund supporting customer chosen CSR projects

o A countywide Electric Vehicle charge point deployment programme

o A communal district heating scheme in Northampton

o A commercial services proposition to SMEs in the county

o Making sure that eligible residents of the county benefit from the measures they can receive through the Energy Company Obligation

o Supporting the use of renewable technology and microgeneration in the county, including through biomass, and wind farms.

o All costs and operational activities are met by British Gas.