Bridget Phillipson: Vital for economy

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Rising energy prices are hitting households and businesses across Wearside.

All the major energy companies are hiking their prices and few people will be left unaffected. However, it’s the low-income families and the vulnerable that will really bear the brunt.

Many of our older residents don’t have access to the internet and the cheapest tariffs. There are many people who can’t pay by direct debit and also families with pre-payment meters.

Even those of us fortunate enough to access online deals find it complex, confusing and lacking in transparency.

You could make a full-time job out of searching out the cheapest deals and staying on top of your bills.

Lib Dem Energy Secretary Chris Huhne unwisely blamed families for not shopping around. What households need is a Government that understands the pressures they’re facing and takes action against the energy companies. Not a Government minister who abdicates responsibility and tells you it’s your fault.

A large gas bill may not close Tesco, but it could be the difference between staying open or closing for small businesses across Sunderland.

As growth stalls and the economy flatlines it’s more important than ever that we support small businesses.

They are vital to our local economy and provide much-needed jobs and opportunities.

They too are being hit by rising energy costs and the pressures that this brings. If the weather forecasts prove accurate, then already hard-pressed families and businesses face an exceptionally tough winter ahead.

The Government’s electoral shake-up is nothing short of an outrage.

I’m not talking about the recently announced changes to parliamentary constituencies, but the plans that will see as many as 10million voters fall off the electoral register.

Ministers are proposing that it should no longer be compulsory to co-operate with electoral registration officers, the local council officials who have a duty to compile an accurate voting register.

The Electoral Commission made their concern very clear, calling it the biggest change since the introduction of the universal franchise.

The people most likely to lose out will be the poor, the young and people in urban areas.

There is of course a very good reason to avoid registering to vote as you’ll miss out on jury service. At present you can’t do this and can be fined, but this will be removed altogether.

When parliamentary boundaries are reviewed again after 2015, it will be on the basis of around 10million fewer people on the electoral register.

Even if you register to vote, if your neighbours haven’t you will find yourself living in a much larger constituency with reduced political power.

If we heard that this was happening in a developing country, I’m confident that politicians of every persuasion would rightly have something to say about it. So why are the Tories and the Lib Dems so silent now?