“Building Trust and Public Confidence in Utilities” - ENA Fringe Review

For immediate release - Thursday 1 October 2015

Labour Conference 2015

Delegates at the Labour Conference in Brighton this week gathered at the Utility Week Lobby with Energy Networks Association to discuss the vital issue of trust in the utilities and how to build faith amongst the public in the energy and water sectors.

Recently appointed Shadow Energy Minister Alan Whitehead MP outlined his view on what consumers ultimately want from utility companies, stating that in a rapidly changing market customers need to know that the costs they are paying for vital services are justified. Dr Whitehead acknowledged that companies are engaging with their customers in "a much more positive way" and called for transparency across all parts of the industry.

Responding to calls for greater transparency, UK Power Networks Chief Executive and ENA Chairman Basil Scarsella said that the gas and electricity network sectors have welcomed an unprecedented level of scrutiny in recent years, and stand by a proud record of delivering improved performance and lower costs which has resulted in extremely high levels of customer satisfaction with network companies.

Mr Scarsella said "Customer satisfaction, which is measured on a weekly basis, is close to 90%. When you compare that to other service providers in the UK, customer satisfaction in networks is up there with the very best. What that says to me is that trust and confidence in networks has not been lost."

Mr Scarsella agreed with Dr Whitehead on the rapidly changing nature of the energy market and said that networks must continue to change in line with customer expectations in order to retain the high level of customer satisfaction.

Citizen’s Advice Director of Energy Audrey Gallagher pointed to a lack of full engagement with stakeholders in some parts of the industry and called on utility companies to improve engagement with consumers to restore legitimacy. Scarsella agreed that the networks have recognised a need to communicate effectively with customers, particularly over the value for money offered by the sector. He told the audience that stakeholder engagement plays a central role in the regulation of networks under the RIIO framework and drives the outputs companies deliver for their customers.

Southern Water Chief Executive Matthew Wright was able to offer his perspective from the water sector, and highlighted that fact that regulation across both energy and water has delivered a high level consumer confidence, pointing out that areas of greatest concern to consumers tend to be in the parts of the industry which have been deregulated.

Discussion turned to the roll of smart meters, with Gallagher highlighting the positive contribution they could make to trust in the industry, as well as pointing to potential challenges. Basil Scarsella agreed on the potential challenges which could arise from the supplier led roll-out of smart meters, and said that there will need to be careful coordination between suppliers and networks to ensure that customers’ lives were not disrupted disproportionately.

ENDS

Notes to editors:

Speaking at the Labour Conference fringe event entitled "Building Trust and Public Confidence in Utilities" were:

  • Shadow Energy and Climate Change Minister Alan Whitehead MP
  • UK Power Networks Chief Executive and ENA Chairman Basil Scarsella
  • Citizens Advice Director of Energy Audrey Gallacher
  • Southern Water Chief Executive Matthew Wright

The event was hosted by Utility Week and sponsored by Energy Networks Association. It was chaired by Utility Week Editor Ellen Bennett.

The event was part of the Utility Week Lobby series of events taking place across the party conference season, sponsored by Energy Networks Association

ENA is the voice of the networks representing the ‘wires and pipes’ transmission and distribution network operators for gas and electricity in the UK and Ireland.

For further information please contact:

Matthew Pringle Press and Public Affairs Officer T: +44 (0) 20 7706 5118 M: +44 (0) 7792 220974