Compare and contrast. In the euro area, falling energy prices are cited as one of the reasons why the annual inflation rate has dropped to a four-year low of 0.7%.
Energy bills in the 17-nation single currency zone were 1.7% lower in September than they were a year earlier, continuing a downward trend in recent months.
In the UK, the Office for National Statistics says that the average consumer could expect to pay 8% more for both gas and electricity in September than a year earlier. Fuel makes up only 5% of the average family's weekly spending (rather more for those on lower incomes) but as the ONS pointed out earlier this week, rising gas and electricity bills are having a dampening impact on the economy because households have less left over at the end of the month for discretionary spending.
So what's going on? When pressed to explain why they are raising domestic energy tariffs by 10%, the Big Six energy companies tend to say either that they are being forced to pass on green levies to their customers, that they are being forced to pay more for fuel on the world's wholesale energy markets or that above-inflation increases are needed for investment in new capacity.
Stephen Fitzpatrick, managing director of Ovo energy, blew the gaff on the "it's all down to global forces" explanation when giving evidence to a parliamentary committee this week, noting that wholesale prices have been going down not up. This is now underlined by the data from Eurostat, which shows that across the Channel these lower wholesale prices are being reflected in lower bills to consumers and falling inflation.
Green levies, which make up just 9% of the average energy bill, could not possibly explain such a disparity. Nor could movements in the pound, since sterling has moved slightly higher on the foreign exchanges this year. All of which means that the energy companies had better get started on building all the new power plants they have been promising. Before people draw the obvious conclusion: that they are using their market power to rook the customer.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010