Utility Week

Utility Week 13th December 2013

Utility Week - authoritative, impartial and essential reading for senior people within utilities, regulators and government

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Page 26 of 33

Customers Market view What do they want from you? Independent energy consultants provide a vital support function for many UK businesses, so what can energy suppliers do to help them do their job? Chris Billing presents some Npower research. T he independent advice and expertise offered by energy consultants is a vital support function for many companies. To better understand what consultants want from energy suppliers, Npower conducted some in-depth research, which was published in a report, Npower Consultant Insight Report: Working Better Together. It is clear from the research that consultants are acutely aware of the needs and concerns of their business customers – seven out of ten consultants questioned cited "complying with legislation" as a top energy-related concern. Acknowledging energy regulation as a top concern for business, it is not surprising that eight out of ten (79 per cent) consultants would like a better understanding of energy policy and regulation. More than half (59 per cent) said they were seeking more information from energy suppliers concerning what is a highly complex area. In particular, Electricity Market Reform, the government's initiative to ensure the UK remains a leading destination for investment in low-carbon electricity, was clearly identified as a key policy area energy consultants would like to be better informed about. They said that their customers' worries covered energy supply costs, legislation, managing energy use and budgeting and forecasting. Against this background, 78 per cent of consultants feel that increased support from energy suppliers would further help them to improve their own services to UK businesses. In terms of specific levels of support, they are seeking a single and key point of contact for all liaison, insight into energy management measures customers could take, increased sharing of better market information and assistance around procurement options such as flexible purchasing. While 80 per cent of energy consultants currently offer some form of flexible purchasing, it appears to be the least common procurement option offered to businesses by consultants. Indeed, a quarter do not offer a bespoke flexible energy procurement option to individual businesses and more than a third (36 per cent) do not offer flexible purchasing through a "basket" or "fund" arrangement. When asked about barriers which were preventing this, several were highlighted. For 35 per cent of those asked, it was to do with risk, because they believe flexible purchasing is "too much of a risky purchasing option" to offer to customers. A third believe flexible purchasing is only suitable for energy intensive users, while more than a quarter say the difficulties in administering flexible purchasing contracts prevent them from offering such procurement solutions to their business customers. Finally, 21 per cent of energy consultants felt fixed purchasing was the better commercial option for companies. The Npower research highlights that energy consultants and brokers are confident in understanding their customer base and recognise their concerns in matters related to energy. However, their answers also clearly demonstrate that they would readily welcome additional support from energy suppliers. Such a partnership approach would help keep them well informed in areas of purchasing and energy policy, enabling suppliers and third party intermediaries to improve their service and pass on their extensive shared knowledge to UK businesses. Both suppliers and consultants should look to work more closely to ensure businesses, whatever their size, receive the right level of support to help them take control of energy. The full report Npower Consultant Insight Report: Working Better Together, can be downloaded at: http://bit.ly/ ConsultantReport. Chris Billing, head of indirect sales, Npower Industrial & Commercial Markets I am the customer Richard Hill Arlene Foster, enterprise, trade and investment minister, recently launched a consultation on future consumer representation arrangements in Northern Ireland. It questions the continued need for the Consumer Council. I believe now more than ever Northern Ireland needs the Consumer Council, a steadfast and independent organisation with highly experienced staff dedicated to representing the needs of all NI consumers and "NI needs the Consumer Council more than ever" businesses at local, regional, national and European levels. We make the consumer voice heard in a range of ways, including: •  securing £300,000 for consumers last year. •  researching consumer disadvantage and lobbying for change •  representing consumers in price negotiations for electricity, gas, public transport and water. •  providing free price comparison and switching tools to help people get the best deal. •  informing and educating consumers of their rights. •  protecting the most vulnerable. The future of the Consumer Council is in all our hands. We believe that we have demonstrated our value over the past 30 years. Now is the time to develop and strengthen consumer protections rather than undermine or dismantle them. Please make your voice heard by completing the consultation response on the DETI website www.detini.gov.uk by 17 January 2014. Richard Hill, chair of the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland UTILITY WEEK | 13th - 19th December 2013 | 25

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