An East Lothian couple are aiming to disrupt Britain’s energy supply market with the launch early next year of a new company that will put “power in the hands of consumers”.
Our Energy, the brainchild of David Pike and Karin Sode, is in the process of getting regulatory approval for a business plan that will return 75 per cent of all profits to customers in the form of an annual rebate. By doing so, they say users will automatically get the best deal either through cheaper prices or the repayment of proceeds.
They are looking to raise up to £550,000 to start taking on the Big Six power suppliers that have come under fire for being slow to pass on the slump in wholesale energy prices to end-users. By year five, Our Energy hopes to have 380,000 customers.
“There is a problem of trust in the supply of gas and electricity to the UK domestic market,” Pike said. “Only 43 per cent of consumers trust energy suppliers to be fair. Customer service satisfaction with the Big Six is less than 50 per cent.”
Against this backdrop, Our Energy has pledged to provide full transparency on both decision-making and accounting. Customers will have “direct democratic influence” with representation on the board of directors, which already includes a couple of heavy-hitters from Scotland’s business community.
The board is chaired by Peter Lederer, who retired as chairman of Gleneagles in 2014 after 30 years at the hotel. He led Diageo’s Learning For Life programme and advocates a more balanced relationship between corporations and customers. “It is time to build an organisation where the consumer actually has control, consumers’ views about company direction are sought, and most importantly where the majority of the profits are returned to the consumers,” said Lederer, who got involved after working with leadership consultant Sode at Gleneagles.
Our Energy joins the growing campaign for public ownership headed by the likes of Switched On London, which is looking to establish a non-profit energy company serving the city. Similarly, action group We Own It has since 2013 been seeking to reverse the privatisation of a range of public services.
Former Clydesdale Bank chief executive John Wright, who is advising Our Energy, said it is “refreshing” to work with an organisation that puts people before profits.
Our Energy plans to transfer whole ownership of the company to its customers within nine years of trading. It aims to achieve 75 per cent customer ownership within three years, leaving time to generate returns for the investors currently being sought to get the project off the ground.
Sode said backing will probably come from a mixture of private investors and crowdfunding.