North Sea Oil
 Labour's shadow energy minister Tom Greatrex spoke to IBTimes UK about North Sea oilReuters

As oil prices plummeted, the cost at the pump dropped and energy bills are expected to follow suit.

But Ed Miliband's pledge to freeze energy prices for 20 months after the general election came under further scrutiny. In particular, the wording – "freeze" – was attacked.

The Conservatives claimed a "freeze" under a Labour government would have meant that prices would not have fallen for consumers.

Labour issued a clarification, explaining that the "freeze" was more like a "cap".

IBTimes UK asked the shadow energy minister Tom Greatrex if he thought the language of the policy could have been clearer.

"It was absolutely clear from the start that this was about stopping prices going up because between 2008 and 2009 wholesale prices increased, people's bills went up massively and, when wholesale prices decreased again, that wasn't passed on," the Labour MP said.

He added: "Alongside that policy there has been a range of reforms that we have set out to bring transparency and fairness to the market.

"For example, the regulator should be given the power and the duty to ensure that over time if companies don't pass on wholesale costs to consumers, the regulator would require them to do so."

North Sea oil

It seems most consumers have welcomed cheaper petrol when price of oil dropped, but there is a human cost behind the plummet – job losses.

A range of companies, including Talisman Sinopec, BP, Shell, Chevron and Conoco Phillips, have announced workforce reductions on the back of falling prices. What do Labour propose to do to help?

"These issues pre-date the sudden changes in prices in terms of the maturity of the North Sea basin and the costs associated with extracting the oil," Greatrex said.

He explained that these problems have been recognised in Sir Ian Wood's review into the UK's offshore oil and gas industry.

The energy expert called on the government to reform the tax regime in the North Sea to help alleviate problems the industry faces.

Labour have called on the Chancellor George Osborne to take "urgent action" to safeguard Scotland's North Sea industry.

Greatrex accompanied the shadow chancellor Ed Balls to speak oil industry bosses on Tuesday (20 January).

"The important thing, which I was setting out with Ed Balls, was a range of different things that need to happen," he said.

"Firstly, in relation to the fiscal regime, that was to ensure that the framework is in place in a way that involves consultation before changes in the sector are made so the important principle of maximising economic recovery is retained, even when there are fluctuations in prices.

"The whole ethos of the Wood review was to bring in a very different culture in terms of collaborative working, which is a way of being able to increase efficiency without any chance of compromising safety – that's a different approach for the industry and government.

"This is something which is too urgent to wait until the budget in a couple of months' time.

"Some of the aspects of it can be done now, including looking at the supplementary charge tax rate, which increased in 2011 when prices were on their way up. It has a massive impact now."

The Green surge

The Green Party are on the rise and their support is reflected in the polls. A survey from YouGov for The Sun, which was conducted between the 19 and 20 January, put Natalie Bennett's party on 10% (up from 7%).

The findings were significant for Labour. The data revealed that the Greens were eating into their left flank as the Tories took a two-point-lead (32% vs 30%).

With the Green surge in mind, would Labour be announcing any more renewable energy policies heading into the general election?

"We've set out very clearly over a considerable period of time policies in relation to seeking a 2030 decarbonisation electricity supply target," Greatrex said.

"We don't take the same approach that the Conservative Party take in terms of an almost ideological antipathy toward renewable energy.

"We think that there should be a balanced energy mix but that the focus should be on decarbonisation and energy security.

The shadow minister, speaking after a Policy Exchange event on interconnectors, added: "The way in which the Chancellor sought to present shale as an energy silver bullet has been hugely damaging to the case for responsible stewardship of the fossil fuel resources."