Gossage – gossip


Not a natural
None of the Big Six will forget in a hurry how, during a highly publicised cross-examination session before the House of Commons energy select committee, a hitherto unknown Irishman running an utterly obscure electricity brand stole all the headlines from them.

Stephen Fitzpatrick, the CEO of OVO Energy, played the cheeky upstart to perfection. Whenever the panjandrums of EDF or SSE tried to explain how the big price rises were all down to external forces way beyond their control, up would pop the little leprechaun fellow, saying that precisely the same worldwide trading conditions were allowing him to drop rather than increase his charges.

Though sitting right alongside three of the Big Six’s CEOs, throughout the long televised session he managed entirely to distance himself from his patronising competitors, verbally and - crucially  - physically. Each time when addressing the MPs, Fitzpatrick overtly turned away from the others sitting alongside him, sending out a true ‘outsider’ message.

I remember thinking at the time, this man is not just a natural communicator, but he must also have been very well tutored. And now I have found out why. This month his company has appointed its first head of Corporate Affairs. She is Jessica Lennard, and she was the head of Edelman PR¹s energy practice. Who just happened to have had OVO as a client.

As prior to this Ms. Lennard was working as the Conservative Party¹s energy policy team when in Opposition, she was the ideal person to tell Fitzpatrick that this Select Committee appearance was the ideal stage to propel his company into the limelight ­ so long as he performed just as she told him to. He did. And now OVO Energy is comfortably the fastest growing independent electricity company around. And Jessica Lennard has now hopped on board herself. Enjoy the ride.

Far from disinterested

PR people keep popping up in the wonderful world of electricity. Take the man who had the lead letter in the Times, following a splenetic editorial from the Thunderer  - which basically said the present ecological orientation of UK energy policy is completely wrong. And the arch-climate change denier Lord Nigel Lawson was the only person with any sense.

Understandably the subsequent Times letters column was full of eminent professors and windfarm promoters, all saying how very misguided the Times’ editorial line was. In each case, it was rather obvious from the address or job title given, exactly what the commercial or academic interests being promoted were.

But the lead letter ­ the only one that backed the Times’ line enthusiastically ­ was signed quite simply, from “Martin Livermore, Cambridge”.  No other information offered, certainly none printed. Just an objective Times reader, persuaded by the eloquence of the Thunderer.

That is a shame. Because Mr. Livermore is really very far from the casual disinterested reader some might have taken him to be.

He is the director of an entity called the Scientific Alliance. He is a Fellow of the International Policy Network, indeed was the author a chapter of an IPN book attacking the Kyoto Protocol. He is a financial contributor to an organisation called Sense About Science.

One thing all these pseudo-scientific bodies have in common is that they deny entirely the threat of climate change being caused by excessive burning of fossil fuels. The other thing that the vast majority of their activists have in common is that they are not trained scientists, let alone climatologists.  In Mr. Livermore case, he was a PR man for Du Pont Chemicals.

But I do wonder why his Times letter contained no reference to his important role in all these organisations. Could it be for fear that their known nuttiness might have discredited the ³objectivity² of his contribution?

No need for espionage

Amidst much publicity, the American government has arrested four Chinese government officials for undertaking industrial espionage, seeking to uncover manufacturing technologies and techniques. The main company targeted was Westinghouse and their nuclear secrets. This of course is a company set to play a key role in the construction of 12 new nuclear power stations in Britain.

Given our government is now welcoming in the Chinese Nuclear Corporation to be co-partners in their construction, it would seem there will no longer be any need for the Chinese to undertake any further backdoor nuclear industrial espionage. Because we Brits are hell bent on laying down the welcome mat at the front door.

An unnecessary fight
For a while I was really puzzled. Why on earth was our government picking yet another unnecessary fight with our European partners? This time it was about whether or not the EU should actually set itself some official targets for improving energy efficiency by 2030.

Whilst all the governments we usually side with – the Germans, the Danes, the Austrians, the French, the Belgians and so on– are all gung ho for the concept, the UK has been lobbying hard against it. Backed ironically by the Bulgarian and the Romanian governments. Which proves we can be nice to them when we want to be.

What confused me was it was only a year or so ago when all of what we used to call Fleet Street’s Finest were summoned to the Royal Society, to hear our beloved Prime Minister David Cameron wax eloquent upon the virtues of not wasting precious fuel.

“In the race for limited resources, it is the energy efficient that will win the race”, he opined. “We can make Britain a showcase for green innovation and energy efficiency”. And then pledged to make us become “the most energy efficient country in Europe.”

I recall his oratory bought a (metaphorical) tear to the eyes of the lady from the Sunday Express seated beside me. I know I heard a deep sigh of reverence from the Sun’s man on my other side.

So why the complete change in direction? I was truly baffled. Until another gnarled old hack pointed out to me that, between them, the European emissions trading scheme, and the Carbon Floor Price, are both potentially very big sources of revenue for the Treasury. The less energy consumed, the lower the carbon price, the less money into the Chancellor’s coffers.

So no wonder Cameron only wanted lip service paid to saving energy.  With the ever growing size of the National Debt, the reality of making any reduction in profligacy legally binding was simply too horrendous to complicate. So no European energy efficient target for us, thank you very much.