“We all have the ability to change the world; we just have to find our own unique way of doing it.”

Apparently we have begun something that is doing just that: we have found “our own unique way”. Don’t take my word for it, someone else sent me that quote this morning and extremely generously said: “I guess you’ve done that…” But this is very much more than an “I” thing and very much a “WE” thing. We are a group – it’s about the Power of the Group.

The WE thing is getting organised to rant again. Last year a coordinated and systematic campaign – with the help of some with influence like MP Tony Baldry – got the issue of outrageous profiteering by rural energy suppliers raised in The House. The same campaign sent the media our way – Radio 4′s iconic You & Yours, the BBC One Show, local radio and TV, national newspapers – and there is little doubt that it was a success. However, it is now even more important to ramp up the rant!

The issue of those dramatic price escalations – particularly for heating OIL – forced the hand of the Office of Fair Trading and they brought forward their enquiry into off-gas energy supplies. Published last October it all looks rather impressive, until you actually read it! A nine month enquiry and there are no solutions. I have made zero secret in pretty much every meeting I ever have – even my poor Mum is fed up with hearing these words – that the OFT’s report is lamentable. Their attempt at understanding the shenanigans of the pricing structures of rural energy, the supply and delivery of heating OIL and LPG in particular, fall extremely short of satisfactory. It feels like it all got too complex and big so, like everyone else, they threw their hands up and just let it be. In response to a specific question within it about misleading internet prices I was told: “we did not have enough resource to investigate every single site”. Clearly, not really as important as we were lead to believe then.

And now: “The Office of Fair Trading is launching a fact-finding review to understand more about the challenges facing consumers and businesses in remote communities across the UK.”   Time for us to get organised again then! Rather worryingly, the first mention of energy – as one of the issues to cover – is deeply embedded in the subsequent pages about the evidence they intend to collect. But rural energy is the starting point for why any community would feel remote. Those who are fuel poor, and reliant on constantly changing crude OIL based energy products, are remote whether they live a mile or two from the nearest market town or across a 50 mile stretch of water on an island.  Without a coherent rural energy strategy every rural community that is off the gas network is remote.

This “fact finding review” is our opportunity to truly bombard the OFT – and the government – with the message that enough is enough and it is time to start treating the “Four million households in the UK [that] are not connected to the mains gas grid” (source: OFT off-gas energy review) as equals! Just because it is judged to be “different” and, therefore, perceived to be difficult to regulate – which it is NOT – does not mean that the collective blind eye should continue to be turned.  We have until 20th April to get our views in, visit: http://www.oft.gov.uk/news-and-updates/press/2012/09-12. If you want to be part of a coordinated campaign with some facts and figures then please mail us at thinking@community-buying.com with the subject title of OFT RANT 20th APRIL and we’ll reply with letters you can copy, or use as a base for your own bespoke rant, and send to both the OFT and your local MP.

One government department, BIS, has just about grasped the concept of buying groups and, in tandem with Coop Futures, have launched an interesting competition. I have been forwarded that link by over twenty different organisations across the UK and yet not once have I been forwarded the link to this OFT review. Ironically, one of the goals the OFT outline is to find “novel and effective approaches to improving market outcomes to remote communities”.  So the very thing that we have found – “our own unique way” – is the best bet remote rural communities have for creating change and the OFT could actually play a key role in getting that message out, however, it seems they don’t have much of a reach to actually tell many about this review!  But, seriously, what can I expect? We only buy more community rural energy than anyone else in the UK and they weren’t much interested in what we had to say last time.

Think it is important enough for it to be different this time – please add your weight to the campaign and your opinion to the debate. We need a coherent, intelligent rural energy strategy; we need a lot of people finding their own unique way to help us create that change.

Thank you for your continued support.