Competition and Markets Enquiry

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2015 Energy Service Group Conference
23 February 2015

This conference notes that last year the energy regulator Ofgem referred the big six energy companies (British Gas, EDF, E.ON, NPower, SP and SSE) to the Competition and Markets Authority. UNISON has many thousands of members working for these employers.

This referral followed an assessment of the sector by Ofgem alongside the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) which they considered showed increasing distrust of energy suppliers, uncertainty about the relationship between the supply businesses and the generation arms of the six largest suppliers, plus a view that rising profits came with no clear evidence of suppliers reducing their own costs or becoming better at meeting customer expectations.

While UNISON has long raised issues around rising energy prices and increasing fuel poverty we are concerned that the CMA enquiry could have damaging consequences for thousands of our members in the retail side of the business. They have good reason to be concerned because previous attempts to rein in excess profits or poor practices have left members in the retail business penalised and bearing the burden for the mistakes and excessive greed of a few.

This is wrong and takes little account of the hard work our members do dealing with customers day in and day out, at weekends and over holiday periods. Our members have become experts in dealing with vulnerable and distressed customers, in helping them find solutions, and in ensuring good customer service is provided despite at times a lack of investment, inadequate IT systems, or excessive call volumes. They are also very much on the front line and often have to face angry and at times abusive customers for failings which are not in their control.

Call to break up the big six energy are misplaced and would represent a race to the bottom as new entrants undercut each other on price in an unsustainable and short termist strategy that would destroy members jobs and leave customers worse off and with little recourse to address problems. It would also lead to more workplaces without a trade union presence, outsourcing and off-shoring overseas of UK jobs.

We therefore call upon the Energy SGE to;

1)Respond to these threats by engaging directly with the CMA and ensuring they understand the concerns of our members working in the energy industry

2)Continue to push the UNISON led solution to high energy prices, which is to address energy efficiency in UK homes and in doing so end fuel poverty.

3)Work with the government and or opposition and or other stakeholders to ensure any legislative or regulatory changes take account of energy members concerns.

4)Progress our campaign to ensure that all energy customers receive high levels of customer support from a UK based, highly skilled and professional workforce.

5)If full retail separation is proposed as an outcome, a campaign against this outcome be developed to include consideration of alternative options