On 30th January 2012 activists from Fuel Poverty Action occupied the headquarters of British Gas in Staines, Middlesex. Six activists managed to bluff their way past security, gain access to the building and barricade themselves inside two rooms. Meanwhile others blocked the front gate to the site and handed out leaflets to workers.
One of the protesters, Hannah Edler, 27 said: “Instead of paying billions to Big Six bosses every year, we could have a fairer system where our energy is owned by communities who decide how it is priced and produced. Money could be better spent on giving homes proper insulation, and investing in moving away from the dangerous fossil fuel system which the Big Six have trapped us in. To provide for everyone’s needs and stop wrecking the planet’s climate we need democratic control of our energy system!”
Phil Bentley, the Managing Director of British Gas came out to talk to the protesters at the gate. Apparently caught off guard, when asked if he thought it was fair that he got paid a huge salary, plus bonuses, while people were dying because they couldn't afford to heat their homes, he replied “of course not”.
In 2010 Phil Bentley had a basic salary of £1.3m, with share options worth up to a further £2.7m (See here). The government-commissioned Hills Fuel Poverty Review put a conservative estimate on the number of people expected to die this winter as a direct result of being ‘fuel poor’: 2,700, more than the number who die on the roads. As of April 2011 it has been estimated that, nearly 1 in 4 households (6.3 million homes) in the UK suffer fuel poverty.
Energy companies routinely profit from fluctuations in wholesale cost of oil and gas (See here), passing the increases in cost on to the consumer and taking the profits from any reductions. The 5% price decreases recently announced by EDF and British Gas go back only a short way against the overall 15-20% price rises in the past two years
The action at British Gas HQ was part of a national weekend of of 'winter warm-ups', highlighting the injustice of millions living fuel poverty whilst energy companies make huge profits. Protests organised by community, environmental and Occupy groups, also took place in Lewisham, Haringey, Hackney, Swindon (outside RWE Npower office), Leeds, Manchester, Cambridge, and the City of London. They demanded a fair democratic energy system which provides warm housing for all and a safe climate for the future.