SSE director Rice in utilities ‘transparency’ call

LADY Susan Rice, the senior independent director at electricity and gas supplier SSE, has called for energy companies to be more “transparent” about the charges that their customers face.

Lady Susan Rice spoke of the importance of nonexecutive directors in helping restoring trust in businesses. Picture: Stewart Attwood

Rice, who is also managing director of Lloyds Banking Group’s Scottish operations, said that greater transparency would help utility companies to regain the public’s trust.

Tomorrow the House of Commons’ energy and climate change committee will question senior executives from the “Big Six” energy companies over the flurry of recent price rises.

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Rice said: “Transparency in all areas of operations – but perhaps most importantly in how companies charge their customers for goods and services – has to be a priority.

“Energy providers have to be able to explain what their customers are paying for, or they can’t hope to earn and retain their trust.”

Rice, who became a non-executive director at Perth-based SSE in 2003 and took over as its senior independent director in 2007, made the comments earlier this month at a private non-executive directors’ event hosted by “Big Four” accountancy firm KPMG.

Her comments, which have only just been made public, come amid a string of price rises from energy suppliers.

SSE kicked off the current round of cost increases on 10 October, followed a week later by Scottish Gas-owner Centrica, with Npower and ScottishPower also ramping up prices last week.

Tomorrow afternoon MPs will question representatives from Centrica, the Co-operative, EDF, Eon, Npower, Ovo, ScottishPower and SSE over energy prices.

Andrew Wright, interim chief executive at industry regulator Ofgem, will also be grilled by politicians.

The inquiry comes amid growing calls for “green” levies – such as subsidies for wind farms – to be removed from customers’ bills and funded from general taxation instead, with the UK government already considering such a move.

Prime Minister David Cameron told the Westminster parliament last week: “We need to roll back some of the green regulations and charges. We will be ­having a proper competition test carried out over the next year to get to the bottom of whether this market can be more competitive.”

There are also growing calls from consumer groups for all energy generators to be forced to sell their electricity on the wholesale markets, rather than just to their own retail arms. The measure, already adopted by SSE, could make the market more transparent.

A spokeswoman for Energy UK said: “The energy industry wants all its customers to have access to good value tariffs and assistance in reducing their bills.

“Trust and transparency are both critically important and each company is working hard to rebuild trust in the ­market and to assist customers in ­improving their relationship with their energy suppliers.”

In wide-ranging comments at KPMG’s event, Rice also highlighted the work being done by banks and supermarkets to regain consumers’ trust following the financial crisis and the horsemeat scandal.

“Rehabilitating the image of business is not without its challenges and it takes courage and leadership to do it effectively,” Rice said.

“In this, and in applying their wealth of experience to exercise long-term good judgement, non-executive directors can play a very important role in leading from the top to make businesses more responsible and to restore public trust.”