On the sofa

On the sofa for BBC Breakfast News this morning, as Ofgem announced the results of its probe into energy markets. 210 pages long, so there was a team of us starting the working day at 7am, reading, comparing notes and drawing conclusions. The regulator probably feels it has got the political balance right – clean bill of health for the overall market coupled with an expose on the way that some customers lose out (Don’t be loyal – companies will charge you extra for your faith in them). It could be that they have it precisely the wrong way round though – the dodgy stuff is simply what you can get away with when the market is not working as competitively as it ought to.

What is interesting though is what a document like this says about how it was put together. The body of the analysis is classic Regulator In Charge – life is complex but luckily we are clever and don’t worry about things. The summary, with only an elastic relationship with the body of the text, is suddenly energetic, concerned and action-oriented. And only when we get to the Appendices, do we start to hear some straight talking – that “it is common for energy companies [with small business customers] to: win business through dubious sales practices; keep customers through one-sided contracts, with verbal contracts a particular source of confusion; exploit the passivity of customers and the fact they have other priorities, and; appear to make very little effort to retain customers through quality of service.” Ouch.

We have eight weeks of consultation now to get to grips with which of these interpretations of the energy market is actually what they mean.


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