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Well qualified

I was so sorry to gather, after less than three years in the role, Angela Knight is to stand down as chief executive of Energy UK.

When Angela Knight was appointed, there were lots of jokes – ­ mostly made by me – that she was moving over from running the British Bankers Association because she wanted to represent a marginally less unpopular industry. So perhaps it is to her credit that recent polls have found the Big Six are now even more distrusted that the high street banks.

So who is to succeed her? Well, I have found somebody absolutely perfectly qualified to do so. Russell Hamblin-Boone was previously the director of corporate affairs for the Energy Retailers Association, right up until the time it morphed into the Energy UK organisation. Subsequently he has found very pertinent employment. He is now the chief executive of the Consumer Finance Association. And upon whose behalf does this pleasant sounding Association speak? If I tell you that amongst its main members are key High Street names like Money Shop, Quick Quid and Wonga, you will quickly work out that the estimable Mr. H-B currently speaks for the payday loan industry. These are companies that still outweigh even the Big Six in public detestation. Given this pedigree, he should be a shoo-in as Knight¹s replacement.

Grovelling apology

Linda and Nigel Brotherton live in a three bedroom semi-detached 1990s house in Burnley, Lancashire. Their electricity consumption has always been pretty frugal.

But this summer they received notification from their supplier, nPower (a subsidiary of the German loss-making monolith, RWE). It told them they were increasing their quarterly direct debit, which had been a commendably low £87. The new charge was to be £53,000,000. And the Brothertons need not respond. It would be debited automatically.

Being sensible people, they most certainly did respond. Very forcefully. And have now received a truly groveling apology from RWE. They are far from the first customers to whom RWE has had to grovel for stupendously inaccurate billing. Although not many such errors are out by over £50m.

So incompetent is this company now becoming ­and more pertinently, so fast is its customer base evaporating ­that we will shortly have to re-name the Big Six. As the Big Five-and-a Half. 

Unfairly maligned?

I  always try to be a defender of backbench Members of Parliament. I have long felt them unfairly maligned, suffering as they do from the mushroom syndrome. The mushroom syndrome? Put simply, it means kept mostly in the dark. And periodically somebody throws a whole lot of shit  (ED: Surely, ordure?) over them. But, so in the scientific dark does the average Conservative backbencher turn out to be, that perhaps such treatment is fully deserved. What else can you conclude from a recent Populus poll of 119 MPs, which revealed that less than I in 3 of David Cameron¹s supporters are prepared even to acknowledge that man-made climate change is accepted as a ‘scientific fact.’

Despite all the UN surveys of climatologists, practically all of whom state so conclusively that profligate burning of fossil fuels is destabilising the atmosphere, no fewer than 53% of these MPs still don¹t think that is a proven fact.  I have no idea what further proof they think they need. But even more alarming is the response of 18% of Conservative backbench MPs, who think that ‘man-made climate change is entirely environmentalist propaganda for which there is little evidence.’ Stop and think about what that means in practice. It means that, in any gathering of Tory MPs. one out of five clearly holds a belief that is now akin to thinking that the earth is flat, and that the Tooth Fairy really exists. Back in 1861 John Stuart Mill summed up my reaction. He wrote: “Although it is not true that all Conservatives are stupid, it is true that most stupid people are Conservative.”

Certainly, that description is dead accurate for I in 5 Conservative MPs.

Shared scepticism

My many devoted readers will know that I have long been dubious as to whether fitting 53 million smart meters in Britain¹s buildings by 2020 is really good value for money. I was not surprised to learn that the most fearsome of all House of Commons committees, the Public Accounts Committee, shares my scepticism.

The PAC has concluded that the £11bn programme is likely to be very poor value for money. They are concerned that the difference that such meters may make to the average consumers bill is, even optimistically, less than 2% of the average bill. And they are most alarmed that there is no cap on how much energy suppliers can charge business customers to pay for the scheme.

A couple of months ago, the consumer body Which? was equally forthright in its demand that a much tighter control be kept on the relevant budgets. Fat chance. When this entire concept started almost seven years ago, the working figure for the entire programme was around £5bn. This then crept surreptitiously up to £8bn. And now the official figure is only just shy of £11bn.  Which from past experience suggests that the final figure could be a further 50% up on that. I do know that the Cabinet Office has been paying particular attention to these ever-inflating costs. To my knowledge, it has undertaken at least three separate project assessments since 2011.  As ever, the Government is refusing to confirm that such studies have even taken place, let alone what they are concluding.  I think the time has come for such primness to cease. There is simply too much of your and my money at stake.

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