Comment: Seems energy firms can’t do anything right

Terry Murden. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Terry Murden. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Share this article
Have your say

AS SURE as night follows day, an announcement from an energy company that it expects to see a rise in profits is greeted with howls of indignation from consumer groups.

So it was with Scottish Hydro-owner SSE’s trading update yesterday. It was “like a red rag to a bull”, according to one outraged organisation.

There is no sign of the pressure easing on the utilities, regarded as self-serving money-grabbers who have usurped the banks as the companies the public loves to hate.

SSE chief executive Alistair Phillips-Davies will have difficulty winning over a cynical customer base despite his opening remarks that the “concerns of billpayers have been put at the heart of the debate about how to meet the country’s energy needs”.

No-one can blame him for trying once again to convince customers that the fairest, most progressive solution to rising energy bills is to shift the full cost burden of environmental and social policies from the energy bill payer to the taxpayer.

Of course no-one likes to pay astronomical bills and the scrutiny of the regulator is paramount, But a broader problem for the energy companies is getting the public to understand the need to make big profits in order to fund huge investment in infrastructure – some new, some replacement.

Beyond that is the failure to appreciate the successes of SSE. Along with Centrica, it has remained out of the hands of foreign consolidators. Under previous boss Ian Marchant it grew to become the UK’s second-biggest supplier of electricity and natural gas and the biggest generator of renewable energy. SSE is one of just five FTSE 100 companies to have delivered a real dividend increase every year since 1999.

Unfortunately, the customers, and politicians who see them as fair game, look no further than the bill that lands on the doormat. The rest is window dressing and further proof that the “bosses are in it for themselves”.

Maybe the 20,000 employees at SSE and the millions of pensioners and investors who enjoy healthy returns because of its success would take a different view.

Yet another chapter in gas bill horror story

ON THE subject of energy companies, my moan about Scottish Gas on Tuesday is still not resolved despite the intervention of British Gas Help.

Its staff (I had contact with several people) were on the case, with e-mails and tweets promising to sort out the call centre’s inability to change my address and set up a direct debit for my gas bill. It seemed to be the simplest of operations.

When they were unable to fix the problem during the day, a caller to my home on Tuesday night offered to put me straight through to the Home-move team. But after being left on hold for another ten minutes or so I was told the team was too busy, was about to go home, and would call back. Within 48 hours. At the time of writing this column (4pm Thursday) that call is still awaited.

Let the market decide on pension charges

PENSIONS minister Steve Webb has done the right thing to delay the imposition of a cap on the fees for workplace pensions. It gives employers time to let these new schemes settle down and, in any case, the market should decide what fees should be charged. If a company fixes fees that are deemed too high the customer will vote with his feet.