“To nationalise or not to nationalise, for some that is the question”. But what about the consumer?

19th Nov 2018


I attended a very interesting lecture last week entitled “Beyond nationalisation and privatisation to the democratic public enterprise”.

It was from an academic who had given some advice to politicians about the “modern” way to take utilities into the public sector. Now I’m not going to get into the politics of this debate, save to say, the consumer needs to be front and centre of any arrangement of ownership and control for the system to deliver.

I say this, confident that the gas networks are at the forefront of consumer engagement – and are going further forward under the guidance of Ofgem. But what does the consumer really want? And can it be delivered?

Here I give a personal view, which I know is at odds with others who claim to speak on behalf of consumers. But let’s be honest, consumers are not all the same; they hold a wide-range of views; should we deliver a system for the majority or all? What is a majority, 50 per cent plus 1? And what happens when there are passionately opposing views?

So when I’m told consumers are worried about utility governance; executive pay; tax status and accountability to the public I’m sceptical. For some these might be the most pressing matters. I suspect they are of “interest” but far more pressing are the issues of affordability, safety, security of supply.

Utility companies under their regulator, have a duty to do the right things for all consumers both now and in the future. That means making decisions in the long-term, covering the key challenges posed by the energy trilemma. To get distracted by minority issues, even if they have merit, would do a huge dis-service to the public service ethos I know the gas networks work so hard to engender in what they do, keeping nearly nine in ten homes warm day-in, day-out.

Best wishes

Mike Foster, CE