Exclusive: Majority of UK backs public ownership of energy firms, poll shows

Sienna Rodgers

A majority of UK adults support bringing energy companies back into public ownership, exclusive polling by Savanta ComRes for LabourList reveals amid the energy crisis that will see household bills rise by £693 on average in April.

The new research has found that a total of 55% back the renewed public ownership of energy, while just 8% said they would oppose the policy. 23% said they neither supported nor opposed it, and 15% said they did not know.

Among voters who chose to back the Tories at the 2019 general election, majority support was also found, with 55% endorsing the move. 68% of 2019 Labour voters approved of the policy proposal, along with 54% of Lib Dems.

Labour’s 2019 election manifesto declared that the party in power would bring rail, mail, water and energy into public ownership to “end the great privatisation rip-off and save you money on your fares and bills”.

“In public hands, energy and water will be treated as rights rather than commodities, with any surplus reinvested or used to reduce bills. Communities themselves will decide, because utilities won’t be run from Whitehall but by service-users and workers,” the party said.

“Whereas private network companies have failed to upgrade the grid at the speed and scale needed, publicly owned networks will accelerate and co-ordinate investment to connect renewable and low-carbon energy while working with energy unions to support energy workers through the transition.”

Keir Starmer said during his leadership campaign that “public services should be in public hands, not making profits for shareholders”, and promised to support the “common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water”.

As a candidate, he also raised his hand, along with rivals Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy, when asked on the BBC’s Newsnight hustings during the contest whether he would renationalise water and electricity.

But as Labour leader, Starmer has ruled out nationalising the Big Six energy firms. When asked whether he would implement the policy, he told the BBC: “No… I do not agree with the argument that says we must be ideological.”

He declared in January that he is “not in favour of nationalisation” and rejected the idea that energy companies should be taken into UK public ownership in a bid to keep profits in the country and lower energy bills.

“There’s different ways of doing business, but the top-down version of nationalisation I don’t think really works and I’m not in favour of that. We may have to look at the models for ownership of energy companies,” he told LBC.

He added that the “immediate problem” was how to get through the months ahead amid rising energy prices, after the Universal Credit cut, the upcoming National Insurance hike and council taxes set to increase.

According to anti-privatisation group We Own It, bringing the energy networks into public ownership would save the UK £3.7bn per year and research shows prices are 20-30% lower in systems with public ownership.

To what extent do you support or oppose bringing energy companies back into public ownership?

Strongly support – 28%
Somewhat support – 26%
Neither support nor oppose – 23%
Somewhat oppose – 4%
Strongly oppose – 4%
Don’t know – 15%

Sum: Support – 55%
Sum: Oppose – 8%

Polling by Savanta: ComRes for LabourList. Fieldwork conducted 11th-13th March 2022. Poll of 2,192 adults in the UK.

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