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Is parliament lacking in energy?

Rob Micklewright, Senior Political Consultant | Dods Monitoring

3 min read Partner content

Dods Monitoring consultant Rob Micklewright provides an overview of the energy sector following the party conferences and the merger of DECC & BIS into the new department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

As energy and utilities consultant at Dods, a key part of my role is keeping stakeholder organisations up to date with what is being said about their industry in Parliament. However, reviewing the last few months, I would not blame my colleagues who work in health, finance and foreign affairs if they suggested I had an easier job than them.   

I was struck recently by comments from two MPs vocal in the sector. At the Labour Party conference Jamie Reed said energy policy was the closest thing there was to a silver bullet in public policy - a single tool through which to tackle the biggest economic, environmental and diplomatic challenges. Yet just three weeks earlier, in a debate on the historic Paris climate agreement, the SNP’s front bench energy spokesperson Callum McCaig, remarked that it was always the same faces and same arguments present in the Chamber for energy discussions.   

I would argue both were right and indeed many of the organisations I work with in the sector have said much the same in terms of identifying parliamentarians with a genuine interest in the subject.

And yet this relative lack of interest comes at a time when the sector is on the cusp of the next great industrial revolution.

The digitisation of the energy system and the ability to connect domestic energy guzzling appliances to the grid could offer opportunities for consumer engagement, similar to that now seen in telecommunications and media, in a sector which has found it notoriously hard to get customers to switch suppliers.

Equally it creates the possibility of managing demand to maximise the output of renewable generators whilst reducing the need for polluting power stations.

But getting the revolution right, ensuring vulnerable and disconnected customers are not left behind, ensuring all customers are not overcharged by £1.4bn a year again, and ensuring the lights do not go out and industry can continue to function will require Government to be fully informed of the challenges and pitfalls and their actions effectively scrutinised.  

However, at the same time as this revolution and the challenges associated with it begins to gather speed, the opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny of Government energy policy appears to be diminished. The merger of DECC and BIS into a new department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy may mainstream the issues, it may even fast track the revolution. However it will also mean fewer oral questions, fewer Westminster Hall debates and less select committee time as energy policy becomes diluted by the other work of the department.   

Energy policy is not sexy, it is technical and complex, and it rarely generates headlines. Looking back at the careers of our current members of Parliament, there are also very few with working experience of the sector. Perhaps one, all or none of these reasons explain why an important sector seems to be getting so little focus.

There is a clamour of well informed voices seeking to have their say on the next industrial revolution. There is fierce debate in industry press and events about the future of the energy system, but with a few exceptions this isn’t currently being replicated in parliament.

In popular polls, the cost of energy often comes out as the top household concern for voters. If MPs aren’t engaged with the issue at the moment they may become more so when constituents get in touch if the revolution goes awry.

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Read the most recent article written by Rob Micklewright, Senior Political Consultant - Utilities market interference more likely after party conference pledges


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