Utility Week

UTILITY Week 2nd December 2016

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UTILITY WEEK | 2ND - 8TH DECEMBER 2016 | 9 Interview M any people look forward to winter. The cool, crisp days, the chance of picturesque snows- capes, and the imminent arrival of a break from work combined with the festive season. However, while winter wonderment wows many, the energy sector is braced for a stormy onslaught, with politicians taking aim at the sector and the annual trial by media when energy prices go up. With this knowledge hanging over him, Energy UK chief executive Lawrence Slade, the public face and spokesman for the sector, could be excused for dreading the winter months – especially in the wake of comments from the regulator which have cast doubt on whether his trade body is set up to effectively repre- sent a challenged and changing sector. The sector is once again in the political crosshairs, with the prime minister name checking energy as a failing market and threatening intervention. Prices from suppliers have gone up as we enter the heating season to the cries of foul play from consumer groups. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has completed is damning two-year investigation into the sector and set out substantial remedies to make the market function fairly for all. Brits voted to leave the EU, throwing yet more uncertainty into the mix, and adding more potential risk to a sector crying out for essential investment. And rumours are swirling around that a harsh win- ter could push more smaller suppliers under, poten- tially threatening the already fragile relationship between consumers and the market. However, despite all of this, Slade welcomes Utility Week into his central London office with warmth and a general calmness that has characterised his tenure in Energy UK's top job. This attribute is essential as he helps chart the sec- tor's reinvention to a trusted sector that is seen to be acting for consumers, rather than for shareholders. But Slade is aware of the number of significant chal- lenges facing the industry. "The CMA has done a lot of good things bur there is a lot more the industry needs to pick up on to really push this industry forward to the next degree." The CMA remedies are a thorny issue for many, with the database idea coming in for specific criticism. Ofgem has even stated that solution could be scrapped if trials are not successful. "I don't think we should go ahead with the data- base if you can't prove it can work," Slade says matter-of-factly. "That will ultimately be a waste of consumer's money." He does agree that the sector needs to do more the engage with its customer base, and this comes despite "one of the best years for quite some time" in terms of switching numbers. "It is important that customers can see and feel that they are benefitting from this as soon as possible." Slade says the key to achieving this is "all players" in the sector, including the companies, regulators and government, to "step up and see what we can really do". The reason for the optimism behind this statement comes from the "vibrant" state of the market – one that looks markedly different to that of only two years ago when the CMA began its probe. This is a good starting point to encourage consumer to engage in the market and "hit them [suppliers] where it hurts" if price or cus- tomer service is not deemed good enough. The smaller suppliers, who now have a 15 per cent stake in the market, are helping to drive this increased engagement and growth in switching numbers. There are now more than 50 energy suppliers in the market, some- thing Slade lauds, but there are rumours that the com- ing winter – predicted to be colder than previous winters – coupled with volatile prices, could force some of these independents out of business. [Utility Week spoke to

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