John Lewis boss demands Covid-style intervention over energy crisis
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The boss of John Lewis has urged the Government to intervene as rising energy bills and the ongoing cost of living crisis takes its toll on struggling Britons. John Lewis Partnership Chair Sharon White told ITV’s Peston programme that Chancellor Rishi Sunak should react to the cost of living crisis in the same way he did to the pandemic. This mirrors similar pleas from the boss of Tesco, John Allan, who warned on Tuesday that the country was facing “real food poverty for the first time in a generation”.
Dame Sharon White, the former second permanent secretary at the Treasury, said Boris Johnson and his cabinet needed to act urgently because families were struggling to pay utility and food costs.
On top of soaring energy bills, inflation is forecast to hit a 40-year high of 10 percent by the end of the year.
At the same time, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has warned that living standards are falling at their fastest annual rate since the 1950s.
Speaking to Robert Peston, Dame White said: “I think the time absolutely has come for action, whether it’s an emergency budget or whether it’s another vehicle.
“As I say I think we’re all really nervous about what’s going to happen in October, so when energy bills potentially go up again by up to £1,000, it’s winter.”
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She continued: “I think there ought to be action before the summer, so the decisive action that we saw, I thought the government did incredibly well at pace and scale during Covid, I think we need to see the same decisive action taken at speed and at pace.”
Dame White said that the government should sacrifice a “temporary hit to public finances” to help ordinary Britons.
The British businesswoman added: “I think there’s a bigger issue here.
“So, during Covid as a country we took a short-term hit on the public finances because of the size of the issue and then obviously the vaccine effort, we threw everything at it, and that I felt proved to be absolutely the right thing to do.
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“I think we’ve got at least as pressing a challenge with the cost of living crisis, so if that does mean a temporary hit to the public finances, personally I think that’s absolutely action not just worth taking, I think it’s imperative.”
She also backed a windfall tax on energy companies like BP and Shell, amid reports that Mr Sunak and Prime Minister Boris Johnson could U-turn on the energy tax.
The John Lewis chair urged the Government to act ahead of the second increase in energy bills.
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Dame White said: “I think it’s the right territory, I think certainly the government and the regulator need to act on that second rise.
“Now a windfall tax, it’s not perfect but actually given the severity and the urgency of the situation, I think it’s a reasonable approach.”
Tesco boss John Allan said this week that there was an “overwhelming case” for a windfall tax on energy companies to help those struggling the most.
Last week BP and Shell announced bumper profits due to soaring energy prices.
The energy companies themselves have said a windfall tax would not deter them from investing in the country.
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