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Those of us willing to take the small amount of time and trouble involved to switch our energy suppliers have found we can size a significant amount of money by getting a better deal. But how much effort do local authorities make to shop around?

Bulb, a new “challenger” energy supplier, submitted Freedom of Information requests to find out how much councils are paying and who their suppliers are. Of course they have a vested interest in being able to pitch for this work. But the results they have obtained are of interest. They are available in full here. Most councils use the big six. There is also a suggestion that some are getting a much better deal than others. This is according to the measure of how much a Council is spending divided by the number of households living in the area it covers. That is a pretty rough and ready measure – some councils will have more street lighting required per household than others, some include the energy supply for their council housing while others do not.

Also, of course, it is possible that the big firms will sometimes provide the best deals. Often local authorities and the NHS go through a joint purchasing body called Laser Energy to secure a bulk discount. But that doesn’t give the challenger firms a chance to pitch.

The research for Bulb found that “local authorities are handing over £863 million of taxpayers’ money to the Big Six, or big oil and gas companies, every year.”

So far a fifth of British households have switched to cheaper challenger energy companies – yet very few town halls have done so.

It’s not just the money – there is also the issue of the environment. No local authority in Britain has switched to a fully renewable supplier.

Bulb Co-founder Hayden Wood said:

“There’s a huge opportunity for councils across the country to lead from the front and show that they are committed to a renewable future.

“Sadly, our research reveals that councils – including some who have expressed vocal support for renewables – are currently missing out on the chance to go green. A change would benefit the environment, while opening up opportunities to cut publicly-funded energy bills.

“That’s why we are encouraging people to write to their local councils and call on them to commit to switching to a renewable energy provider. We’d love to see councils help protect the planet, and save some money for residents too.”

One curiosity is that some Labour councils have been involved in setting up their own not for profit energy companies which they encourage their residents to use – yet the Councils themselves won’t do so.

Cllr Peter Rankin, the Labour Leader of Preston Council, tweets about “taking on the big six”. But his Council uses British Gas and EDF.

Labour-run Nottingham City Council has set up Robin Hood Energy. Yet the Council uses EDF.

Another Labour council, Doncaster, has set up its own firm Great Northern Energy – for others to use. The Council’s supplier is Npower.

Islington Council has set up its own “fairer energy company” Angelic Energy. But the Council’s supplier is SSE – one of the big six.

The research by Bulb is a good start. But the transparency rules should be extended so that Council Taxpayers get full information about how much of their money is being spent on gas and electricity – and seek an explanation if other local authorities are getting a better deal.

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