Utility Week

UTILITY Week 26th June 2015

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UTILITY WEEK | 26TH JUNE - 2ND JULY 2015 | 11 Policy & Regulation MacNeil has an important job to do at the ECCC – let's hope he does it. C ongratulations to Angus MacNeil, the SNP MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Western Isles), who is now chair of the Energy and Cli- mate Change Select Commit- tee. Unlike Huw Irranca-Davies on the Environmental Audit Committee, he did not face an election of his peers to secure his position (and additional salary) – and so he did not need to provide a candidate's statement for the ballot among all MPs. Of course, a nationalist MP chairing a select committee is in itself a new phenomenon. Having secured a similar number of seats in 2015 as the Lib Dems did in 2010, the SNP are entitled to chair two com- mittees. The Scottish Affairs Committee is a pretty obvious choice, and energy as the second makes a lot of sense too. Energy is an important issue here in Scotland, with the impact of the volatility of oil prices on the North Sea, one of the two UK-funded carbon capture and storage projects in Peterhead, and the increasingly imbalanced energy mix in Scotland leaving us reliant on importing power from England when the wind isn't blowing. In a recent report, the Institute of Government highlighted the increasing importance and prominence of select committees in the last parliament. While inquiries on phone hacking and tax avoidance caught the head- lines, the energy committee chaired by Tim Yeo was widely respected as major policy changes were introduced. The detailed approach to scrutiny apparent in almost all of its reports meant they were taken seriously. As a member for a few months in 2010, and then as an observer as a shadow minister for much longer, I saw how the committee brought a degree of rigour and balance to a range of complex issues all too easily misrepresented in partisan debate. Elected chairs of commit- tees are credited by the Insti- tute of Government as con- tributing to the significance of select committees. The independence of committee chairs from the government, and also from their own party, has helped them become taken seriously, take them- selves seriously and improve scrutiny. The lack of an elected chair need not set the energy committee back – it is up to the SNP to decide, as it seems to have done, to allocate those positions to longer-serving MPs rather in the way the whips of the main parties were criticised for doing in the past. A respected and knowl- edgeable committee chair can make a real difference to how policy is developed, imple- mented and adjusted – as the last parliament showed. Having asked just two written questions of Decc in the past five years, MacNeill's focus has self-evidently been elsewhere. He needs to demonstrate early a resistance to pursuing party interests first, and that the committee will focus on evidence. With some of the expertise likely to be present among other members, that should be possible. Without it, the credibility of an important source of analysis could be undermined precisely when the wider energy debate needs authoritative scrutiny of gov- ernment policy. "Tim Yeo will be a hard act to follow." For utilities, the Energy and Cli- mate Change Committee (ECCC), the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) committee, and the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) are the most significant select committees. And with the start of a new parliament comes new chairs. The ECCC chair, the Scottish National Party's (SNP's) Angus MacNeil, probably has one of the hardest jobs and finds himself with one of the most difficult acts to follow: Conservative grandee Tim Yeo. The Tory MP, a veteran of 32 years in parliament, led the ECCC for five years. During that time he hauled the bosses of the big six in front of the committee and dragged the distribution network compa- nies to Portcullis House on the back of one of the harshest win- ters we have seen. He pushed for the self-pro- claimed greenest government ever to strive to be greener still, urging it not to "gamble on cheap gas" with promises of a glut of shale gas, and to press ahead with decarbonising the economy. He even joined calls made by the opposition for a 2030 decarbonisation target to be set early – something the gov- ernment still has yet to do. Not one to always stick to the party line, Yeo led the committee in doing what he thought was best for the country. Yeo's view on onshore wind is a prime example where he was at odds with those at CCHQ. In February this year, he said that "shunning onshore wind would be an expensive mistake". This warning fell on deaf ears within his party. However, the call for local communities to have the final say on onshore wind developments did not, and legislation is being pushed through to make this law. For MacNeil, the thorny issue of onshore wind could be one of the first inquiries he leads the new ECCC into. Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Neil Parish (Con) "I look forward very much to working with parliamentary colleagues across the parties to contribute to shaping policy." Opinion Tom Greatrex, Former shadow energy minister Analysis Key committee concerns: - Opening of the English non- household water market in 2017 - Abstraction reform - The impact of M&A on the water sector What we know: Parish is a former Efra committee member, and graduates to become chair having been unopposed, replacing Anne McIntosh. He has a strong background in agricultural matters, having been a farmer in Somerset before his parliamentary career started five years ago, and chairing a number all-party parlia- mentary groups on farming issues. What we can expect: Parish's farming experience may tip the Efra committee more to- wards food and rural affairs, but he will been keenly aware of the importance of water, in particular abstraction reform, on the rural community. With this being a key issue this government needs to deal with, Parish is likely to take a keen interest in it, along with the progress of market opening for non-household customers.

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