Energy bills
UK energy bills have seen sharp increases, which the industry blames on rising costs (Reuters) Reuters

Britain's government is pleading with the Big Six energy firms to freeze their prices until after the next general election in 2015, according to a report.

Citing sources in the energy industry, BBC News reports that the government wants to avoid shouldering the blame for further price rises because of its green levies, which are passed on to the consumer by firms.

Ed Miliband, the opposition Labour party leader, has said he would force energy firms to freeze their prices for 20 months from 2015 if he is elected. His suggestion was heavily criticised by the government and energy firms, who claimed it would lead to blackouts and halt much-needed investment in the country's creaking infrastructure.

The industry blames spiralling consumer energy bills on infrastructure investment, volatile wholesale costs, and green taxes levied by government. Critics of the industry point to the billions of pounds made in profit and say rising bills are more about lining shareholders' and bosses' pockets.

Heavy investment needed in the UK's utilities infrastructure means consumers' electricity, gas and water bills will keep soaring until at least 2030 according to an official report - and it is the poorest homes that will be hardest hit.

The National Audit Office (NAO) warned that government projections put the real terms rise in energy bills at 18% by 2030. There is no official forecast for water bills, but an industry estimate puts the bill increase at 28% over the same timeframe.

Energy Secretary Ed Davey said in a speech about the Big Six that "profits cannot come at the expense of the elderly, the vulnerable, and the poorest in our society. Customers are not just cash cows to be squeezed in the pursuit of a higher return for shareholders."

Energy UK, the body which represents the Big Six firms who dominate the country's consumer-facing energy market, has warned that the fiery debate surrounding the industry as bills rise and politicians threaten intervention is putting much-needed investment at risk.

"The UK needs major investment in energy over the next few years to modernise our power stations, investment in greener, more sustainable power and upgrade the wires and pipes," a spokeswoman for Energy UK said.

"We all need to work together but the current public debate - where all we hear is claim and counter-claim - risks scaring vital investment away."