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Utility Week 18th April

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10 | 18th - 24th April 2014 | UtilitY WEEK Interview Opponents lined up against Miliband's policy, quick to accuse Labour of failing to understand the complexity of the market, and of scribbling the policy on the back of a fag packet. There were dire warnings that the price freeze could lead to blackouts, and investment in the sector would be stifled. Greatrex is sanguine. He insists the reforms are the "right thing to do" regardless of the result of the CMA inquiry in up to two years' time. "These reforms are about issues of sustainability and issues of transparency, and also about long-term focus in terms of energy policy. At the very least the transpar- ency needs to come into this market, and that is going to happen." With no apparent sense of irony, Greatrex goes on to explain that the price freeze is not a price freeze at all. While the mass media has conveniently latched on to that notion, Greatrex explains, it is in fact more complicated. The price freeze will be a price cap. Labour's team shadowing the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) has been making that point for months, oen to deaf ears, that the freeze would not fix prices, but allow them to fall if wholesale prices fell. He adds that any savings gained by the suppliers would be passed on to consumers and not passed on to either the profit sheets or shareholders. But headlines of a freeze are much more dramatic than those of a cap. Greatrex says Labour will take steps to ensure sup- pliers don't hike their prices to lock in a profit margin. "This is unlikely to happen," he says with determined confidence. Not only would a Labour government be able to force suppliers to charge a fair amount (via changes to licence conditions), but the suppliers have said they will hold their energy prices prior to the next general election. SSE, Npower and EDF Energy have all publicly stated they will hold their tariffs at current levels at least until 2015, while British Gas, Scottish Power and Eon are also expected to do the same. Firing a warning at the major suppliers, he adds: "That would actually be very damaging for those compa- nies and damaging in the context of the other changes we will be making, which will allow more people to vote with their feet at that point." He hopes that driving transparency and fairness in the energy sector will rebuild consumer trust, which would lead to more engagement, more switching, increased competition, and ultimately lower energy bills: tackling one of the "cost of living crisis" cornerstones. But Labour's plans mean little while it's stuck in opposition. The major reforms – which Greatrex expects the CMA to recommend – will come in the winter of 2015, but the shadow energy minister believes he can continue to drive forward the agenda. "It will kicked into the long grass if the government decides to do nothing else," he says, adding that he, the other members of the shadow Decc team, and others on the Labour side of the Commons, will not allow that to happen. They will continue to press for reforms to the market and scrutinise those changes the government is making – such as faster switching. Greatrex does add that his party's energy crusade has already changed some minds on the coalition benches. While the government did not accept Labour's amend- ments to the Energy Bill (now the Energy Act 2013), he says: "I think if they had their time again they probably would." He says they would do so because the measures Labour is championing would help remove some of the investment uncer- tainty gripping the sector, because there is "crisis of confidence in the energy sector". This, Greatrex claims, would be rectified with better, clearer information, which would help not only consumers but the suppliers as well, which have seen their public images hammered. If energy compa- nies have any doubts about the wisdom of this, Greatrex thinks they need look no further than Parliament itself. "The parallels are that the lack of confidence in politics and Parliament arose from a lack of transparency," he says. Greatrex, who was part of the 2010 intake into West- minster, has had to deal with the cynicism that has sur- rounded politicians since the expenses scandal in 2009. Suffering something of a double whammy, he has had to battle the public's suspicion of MPs in general and their more specific disaffection with the energy industry. He sums up the lesson that one area people love to hate can take from another: "Sunlight is the best disinfectant." "I've been an MP since the last general election, so in terms of public opinion and cynicism about politicians, that's been the case the whole time. "I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing for people to be sceptical and challenging of their politicians and it's important for the whole of the political process to be as open as possible as well," as it is for the energy sector. Greatrex says one area where gaining trust can – and should – begin is in schools. In fact, his twin daughters are getting involved in energy already, despite being only four years old, where they are the class energy representatives on the Eco Committee at their school, getting involved in how their school uses, and saves, energy and wider environmental issues. While the two youngest members of his family are already starting to develop their energy knowledge, Greatrex has been through his own energy education. This started with a stint on the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee in 2010 before he became the shadow minister for Scotland, before returning to his "area of interest" in the 2011 reshuffle when he took up his current position. "I hope that over the past two-and-a-bit years I've managed to learn enough to understand some of the pressures and dynamics and to help to inform policy from the Labour perspective in the right direction," he says, playing down the knowledge he has accrued since picking up the shadow energy brief. He also points out that one of the constant chal- lenges, alongside the inter-party jousting, is that "there is always more to learn". "The hardest challenge I've found as an MP is that work/life balance. "And it is a geographical balance as well because my family live in Scotland, so 400 miles away from where I am Monday to Thursday most weeks. "That's just a fact and feature of many people's lives; it's a fact and feature of parliamentary life and I just have to do my best to juggle those things in the same way that many other people have to juggle things." And with that, my time with the shadow energy min- ister is up as he, somewhat predictably, has to dash to the station to head back to Westminster. "These reforms are about issues of sustainability and transparency, and also about long-term focus in terms of energy policy"

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