A reason to be cheerful?

Last week the media were reporting that one in ten firms involved with the Green Deal Scheme have been struck off.  If we can see past the headlines, we could interpret this as a positive Green Deal news story.

The proposition that the Green Deal Scheme provides a route to market for participants that are accountable in terms of accreditation, solvency and a code of practice should be a significant driver for Green Deal take up and arguably not enough is made of this feature of the scheme; the reasons for which are an essay in themselves.

The figures reported send out the clearest of messages to both industry and the consumer: Action will be taken if you don’t meet the standards you agreed to deliver or uphold.

At a time where countless multinationals, from banks to supermarkets, are conducting their business in the shadows, with an apparently endless stream of dubious dealings making front page news, the Green Deal Scheme shedding rogue traders at a rate of knots is a reason to be cheerful.

Why then publicly pillory the scheme for attempting to keep its own house in order?

In terms of public perception, if action against those participants breaking the scheme rules scheme isn’t forthcoming in a timely fashion, it is effectively the same as having no action at all.

Slicing out the dishonest elements and sharp practitioners in the industry can’t come quickly enough for those who have traded through the start of Green Deal and the omnishambles of ECO with those left standing, albeit battle weary, moving forward to ECO 2.

If there is a criticism to be levied at the schemes’ ‘better late than never’ attitude to rooting out bad practice ………..better never late I am sure would be the industry cry.

It’s awards season: The ‘Green Grafters’ 2015

Well done to MP Energy and the rest of the regional winners at this year’s Green Deal and Eco Awards. I enjoyed a great day with some splendid company in the form of suppliers, customers, colleagues & competitors from the energy efficiency industry.

Mike Penman, MP Energy Boiler Installer of The Year North West Region

Mike Penman, MP Energy Boiler Installer of The Year North West Region

Looking around the room, the creativity and energy of the participants demonstrates that this is an industry on the up; concealing, very well, the adverse trading conditions businesses in this sector have endured of late.

The awards recognise achievement within the energy efficiency industry, specifically businesses delivering within the Energy Company Obligation and Green Deal Schemes.

Let’s be honest, our green and pleasant land is ripe for the largest retrofit programme imaginable, both domestic and commercially. Our aged inefficient stock, various carbon reduction commitments, national sense of outrage at the behaviour of the ‘big six’ and lack of energy security all contribute to set the scene. The Energy Company Obligation seamlessly blended with the Green Deal should have created the perfect mechanism to drive forward change with the energy efficiency industry tearing up the recession rule book, creating jobs and value to our economy. So what happened?

I believe this was the recipe……..……

Firstly create a bill, which politely requests that turkeys vote for Christmas using their own money, playing entirely by their own rules and ensuring any enforcement is years away.

Do not under any circumstances make the rules transparent to the participants; add a large helping of bureaucracy.

Take a good idea, Green Deal is an excellent choice, then launch it to the general public whilst still only half baked.

Mix well for a year then add a generous dollop of dog whistle politics, glazed with a Prime Ministerial edict to ‘get rid of all the green crap’.

Voilà! the perfect way to kick the legs out from underneath a growing industry.

So how have these businesses survived?

Answer: People.

The ‘Green Grafter’ winners are passionate about what they do, they want to deliver. So when the going gets tough, which it seems to with uncanny regularity in this industry, these imaginative, hard-working, and tenacious individual’s just knuckle down and draw upon what seems like endless reserves of enthusiasm to fight longer and harder for an industry they believe in. So congratulations once again to all the winners, I eagerly await the outcome of the nationals.

Jo Barlow

Big six dash for vulnerable customer cash

Growing up in the 1970s & 80s with electric and gas slot meters, the dash for gas in our house meant something quite different to the notion of exploring our natural resources. The fraught search for a coin when the lights went out, rarely during homework but often during Coronation Street, was only surpassed by the raw panic created when the gas went off.

The gas cooker, now ornamental, mid egg & chips, would remain quiet until the shiny fifty pence piece located at the bottom of a tardis like handbag could be retrieved. There followed an obstacle race to the meter, located behind several coats, which was accompanied by cries of ‘hurry up, eggs congealing’…..

Etched in my psyche are these events, it is therefore unsurprising that as an adult I am somewhat sensitive about ensuring an uninterrupted energy supply to our family home. My duel fuel bills are paid by direct debit and I am billed online to ensure the best tariff available with my current supplier. Have I switched supplier recently? Not in the last decade.

Alongside the childhood reminiscences of fumbling to get a sweaty, slippery, fifty pence piece in the slot, under the stairs, in the dark, in a hurry, sits the painful memory of switching energy supplier last undertaken in 2001. I was scarred by this process, specifically being batted back and forth between suppliers for little over a year. Complaints to Ofgem suggest I was not alone.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigating the energy market suggest that the ‘big six’ who account for 92% of the UK’s energy supply market have millions of so called ‘sticky customers’ mainly vulnerable households who do not have the facilities, such as the internet to switch or don’t understand the switching process. Often inherited from privatisation many these households are still on costly standard variable tariffs.

CMA’s findings come as no surprise to our Domestic Energy Assessors who regularly visit leaky, draughty and costly to heat homes occupied by vulnerable customers paying more for their energy than those who are able to assert their buying power.

Admittedly, my experience of switching energy supplier is historical and according to mega animated price comparison sites, outdated. The bleating sheep like noise from government to energy market price gaffes sounds something like, ‘just switch energy companies, switching is supplier is easy’ but is it really?

I presume that is why energy company complaints continue to rocket skywards, because energy companies are making it so easy for their customers.

I might be tempted to switch energy supplier again if I had the dream team of Money Saving Expert – Martin Lewis, Watchdog – Anne Robinson and Think of A Number – Johnny Ball fighting my corner, then I would only need to be supplied a pre- paid mobile to cover hours on hold.

Martin, Anne & Johnny. The Energy Switching Dream Team

Martin, Anne & Johnny.
The Energy Switching Dream Team

Without the Dream Team, but armed with industry knowledge and digitally literate, if I am still reluctant to undertake the process, is it surprising that those with less information and limited on-line access find the idea of switching energy supplier too difficult to attempt.

The health of our energy market is yet to be decided by the CMA. I understand the ‘big six’ have shareholders to please, but there is little corporate pride to be taken in having the collective ‘trousers down’ of their most loyal customers. The dash for gas may have ended, sadly the dash for vulnerable customer cash continues……..

Jo Barlow