News in brief
British Gas, the privatised energy giant, recently announced a 24% surge in profits in 2010. This was largely achieved on the back of screwing its customers with higher bills. Its parent company Centrica boasted a 39% rise in operating profits to £2.4 billion.
Eight million British Gas customers were hit with a 7% price hike on 10 December, resulting in an average customer's dual fuel bill rising from £1,157 to £1,239. The price increase coincided with the UK recording the coldest December temperature in 100 years.
The usual lame excuse from British Gas was to blame the price rise on rising wholesale prices. However, Centrica has a major stake in gas fields in Norway and elsewhere, meaning that they also benefit from rising wholesale prices.
Back in 2008 Centrica's managing director, Jake Ulrich, said consumers struggling with record-high gas prices should keep warm by putting on two jumpers.
A better idea would be to renationalise all the privatised energy utilities to provide cheap and reliable fuel for everyone.
It appears to be an 'iron law' of capitalist finance that irrespective of how badly a bank performs it is obliged to handsomely reward its top dogs. The latest bank to apply this law is the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which has just given £1 million each to 100 of its bankers and £2.04 million to its boss Stephen Hester.
This bonus bonanza makes a mockery of the government's 'Project Merlin' deal with the banks, which was meant to deliver restraint on bonuses and top salaries in return for not introducing financial regulations on the City.
In case anyone has forgotten, RBS holds the record for the biggest bank loss in UK history. In 2008 it recorded a £24 billion loss, £3.6 billion in 2009 and £1.1 billion last year.
And while hundreds of thousands of public sector workers face redundancy and millions of people are being subjected to government cuts in services and benefits, RBS has been saved from collapse by the last Labour government and the present Con-Dem coalition with a bailout of billions of pounds from public funds.
As desperate British workers flee Libya to avoid Gaddafi's violence, it is worth reflecting on the British government's UK Trade and Industry document 'Investing in Libya' of last year:
"Change is in the air... Not political change, but clear business opportunit[ies] for those patient, persistent and determined enough to take it. Personal relationships really matter a lot in Libya... you will not do business here long-distance, but by being here, often."