You’d pay quite a levy or premium on your fuel bill to wipe the smirk off their management faces.
It wasn’t a grilling. Parliament couldn’t afford the fuel. It was a little light poaching. It was coddling.
Wither-ringing quote of the day from Labour’s Ian Lavery: “How can the profits be fair if people can’t afford to pay them!”
Faced with such a confused and under-informed committee (Energy and Climate Change) the energy bosses realised they could say anything they liked.
Transparency. Trust. Fairness. Profoundly regretting putting up any prices at any time. Our passionate people working their fingers to the bone to keep the lights on by investing, yes and re-investing everything they made back into this sceptre’d isle so that the poor, the disabled, the elderly, young people, differently-sexed people, women with skin issues, fish – wouldn’t have to choose between eating and heating.
The MPs read out one written question and then collapsed. It’s not clear they knew anything more about the energy market at the end of the session than at the beginning.
They make ignorance almost respectable.
Having said that, they had two hours to make a case.
Three of the big companies were sitting there like “a chorus line acting in concert” (Phillip Lee). They had put their prices up at the same time by the same amount and announced them in the same order, (Alan Whitehead). They sold power to their offshore owners cheaply and bought it back expensively. They were abusive predators raping the vulnerable (that vast natural resource John Robertson).
They were brilliant, global-quality obfuscators. “We’ve spent an hour sitting here trying to find out where you make your money. I’m still none the wiser” (all of them).
The rogue element among the power bosses was one Stephen Fitzpatrick from upstart Ovo Energy. Sporting a middle-age Mohawk, he gave his industry colleagues the sort of treatment the MPs could only aspire to. “You’ve all been trying to track down where the money has been going. But these are the best filibusters in the business.”
He said that the win-back scheme for defecting customers was a mark of the sector’s rottenness. When customers rang up to leave they were immediately offered a 15 per cent reduction in their bills, as if to say, “We’ve been overcharging you for years, but only because you let us.”
Their regional market share was a legacy of the old nationalised industry, they were enjoying ex-monopoly advantages, and that Ofgem has almost entirely failed to tegulate them properly. These managers were “very clever, giving complex, confusing answers, so the only answer is more competition.”
He also slipped in a pretty good sales pitch. “We hope to make 5 per cent profit and yet our prices are 12 per cent lower.” (www.ovoenergy.com)
The main finding.
The committee needs a complete overhaul. A somnolent chair, incoherent questioning, and MPs in such data-poverty they’re forced to choose between thinking and drinking.