I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Last week Leslie did some work with the local cops. She is one of our volunteers and she gives drug talks to school kids and community groups. The local boys in blue took her across the Stranraer for a gig they were staging. The subject of the day was home grown cannabis and the idea was to give anyone involved in housing a few tips on what signs they should look out for. This is the UK’s fastest growing cottage industry. And fast growing is very much at the heart of the matter. Once upon a time when things were hard, the man of the house would head out to work the allotment or scavenge for coal whilst his wife might take in some piecework sewing.

Now many beleaguered families convert a spare room into a mini dope farm and trawl the web for tips and hints about how to get the very best out of their hydrophonic grow lights. There are a couple of pretty major downsides to this new micro industry. Number one of course is getting caught which can soon lead to eviction and a stretch of time. Number two is the amount of power required by the fancy lighting systems that drive the crop to the point of being ready to harvest.

Leslie’s role on the day was to walk the audience through the downsides of the weed. The raging paranoia and the depression and the implosion of every shred of self esteem and confidence. The two Scottish Power guys from Glasgow had a rather more practical presentation. They went over the various hyper-dodgy methods the cannabis farmers of Britain employ to tap into free power.

All of this stuff was familiar enough thanks to Panorama. However they also talked about a new thing which certainly wasn’t familiar to me. ‘Pay as you Go’ meters all have an emergency zone of £5 which is designed to ensure that family homes are not plunged into shivering darkness when the money runs out. Now there is a new group of entrepreneurs who have set up their own cottage industry on the back of spiralling power bills. For £15 cash in hand, these new Knights of the Black Eonomy will come along to your home and fettle your meter. Once they are done, the £5 emergency zone in the meter becomes a 'use as much as you like' zone in the meter.


Once you have coughed up your fifteen quid, you can crank the central heating up to full and stick a fan heater in every room. Hell, you can have two baths a night if you like. This doesn’t go under the radar. Soon the power company computers clock on to the fact the people at number thirty two have run up £432 on their five pound emergency zone.

So what happens next?

A letter is sent. Dear customer. We notice that your meter is no longer working as it should. We need to come along and take a look. Expect a card through the letter box with a call round time. So the lads duly put their card through the letterbox and pitch up to check things out. Now, if they are met by a childless couple, then they can give them a severe telling off and cut off their power supply unlit such a time as they have cleared their arrears. But if when the front door is opened there are children playing Lego in the sauna hot living room, then things are very different. The law of the land insists that hell will freeze over before a power company is allowed to cut off the power supply to a house with kids residing in it.

So what do they do then?

They replace the meter with a new one.

And what to the householders do then?

They get on the phone to their man and get him to come round to do his stuff with the new meter. And he gets another £15. And they crank the central heating up to the max and  few weeks later the computer at the power company flags up the fact that the family at number 32 have gone all the way back to £432….

And then another letter. Another meter. Another visit from Mr £15. And every radiator in the house keeps on glowing like Chernobyl reactor number three.

The lads from Scottish Power told of how there were some houses they had visited 15 times to replace the meter. And they told of how they were 99% sure that some of these houses were not in fact home to any kids at all. So what do you do if you want to employ the services of Mr £15 and you don’t actually have any kids? Easy. You borrow a few from a neighbour. When the power guys call, you make sure that you have some tee shirted, 'hire by the hour' kids in the living room playing Lego whilst Cbeebies blasts away in the background.

Once there is no need to keep feeding the ever hungry meter, there is more spare cash for a Friday night in the pub. And that offers the chance to tell a few pals all about the new arrangement with the power company. You mean they can’t do anything? Too right they can’t. And what if you don’t have kids? Borrow a few. There are plenty about. Have you got this lad’s number? Sure. £15 you say? Sure is.

So on and on it goes, and borrowed kids are shuttled from one house to the next. Will people feel bad about it? Of course they won’t. Because everyone hates the power companies. We feel ripped off and we want to throw things at the tele when we hear news of  their record half year profit figures and the multi million bonuses their bosses rack up. So screw the bastards. Serves them right.

So what will the power companies do about it? No doubt they will pay top dollar to smooth talking lobbyists to whisper honeyed words into the ears of MPs. It really isn’t all that bad for kids to get a tad chilly…? Remember how it was in the war…? Kids managed well enough then … It will do them a bit of good. Harden ‘em up. After all they don’t have much in the way of heating in Prep schools and they cost thousands of pounds a term…..

But what if the politicians dig in their heels and refuse to sign up to the idea of freezing kids? Will the Chief Execs of the power companies shrug their shoulders and accept the prospect of a life without bonuses? Well that’s a laugh isn’t it! Of course they won’t. They are as addicted to those lovely bonuses as Sir Alex is addicted to silverware.

So how will these Masters of the Universe manage to lovingly tend their bottoms lines whilst more and more of their customers opt out from paying for their power. Easy. They will load all the costs onto the schmucks who are too honest and law abiding to engage the services of Mr £15. And so the bills of those who pay will keep on going up and up, whilst the ones who have opted out will bask in front of their teles in their Costa del Sol clothes.

Will this go on forever? No. There will be a tipping point. There always is. This will be the invisible line when the cost of power reaches the stage where is quite simply impossible to manage. At this point the Mr £15 guys will become omnipresent and the whole house of cards will come crashing down.

History is full of examples of such tipping points. These are the moments when everyone gets completely pissed off at more or less the same time. We all stop and look at each other and nobody needs to say any words. We kind of instinctively know that enough is enough. It happened in St Petersburg in 1917 when hundreds of years of Tzarist rule just fizzled out. It happened a few months earlier on the Western Front when the whole of the French army simply put their rifles down, mutinied and walked home after the catastrophic Nivelle Offensive. It happened in Berlin in 1989 when twenty million East Germans called time on Eric Honneker.

Are a growing number of tampered power meters an indicator that things are about to change?

I guess we’re all about to find out the answer to than in the months and years to come.     
For another blog about the issue of spiralling power costs click the link below

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