At last, after months of misery, anger and frustration, we have this frank admission from Alistair Buchanan, the head of gas and electricity regulator Ofgem:
“The current performance of some electricity firms in connecting new premises is unacceptable and the delays resulting from this work have caused frustration for developers and businesses.”
This statement of the bleeding obvious has come only after persistent, often impassioned lobbying from the private sector in general and the National Federation of Builders in particular, and it marks the belated beginning of a drive by Ofgem to force suppliers to speed up connections to newly built residential and business premises.
The watchdog’s plan to introduce deadlines for connections and standards for customer service will be warmly welcomed by firms that have endured delays of up to six months before receiving so much as a quote. Even more welcome will be the news that suppliers who don’t meet their targets will face fines of up to 10% of their global turnover. What’s more, Ofgem reports that competition within the gas connection market has developed sufficiently to allow contractors to shop around for the most business-friendly operators.
But although the regulator’s strategy sounds promising, firms will not be truly happy until they see the results in their day-to-day operations. And in the meantime, they would be well advised to continue to make representations in the form of formal lobbying and case studies to remind the utilities that their customers matter, and make sure Ofgem turns its splendid rhetoric into reality.
The green and the gold
The shock of headlines revealing that a bricklayer earns £100k a year or that a City whizkid has left banking for plumbing has probably waned a little by now. One reason is that a highly skilled contingent of eastern European tradesmen has settled like a cool compress over the South-east’s fevered labour market. Now the concern is over the shortage of professional types, above all, those who can advise on sustainability. A whole new group of environmental consultants is occupied with devising formulae to turn green into gold as Whitehall goes carbon crazy and clients are forced to take environmental concerns seriously. Although there is an established clan of green consultants at the top of the industry, there is still a shortfall in experienced middle managers. A prudent move by Davis Langdon has been to launch a programme to upskill the environmental knowledge of its technical workforce (page 15). The alternative is to worry endlessly about recruitment consultants working tirelessly to lure away whole teams of experts. To be able to keep such niche teams, companies will either have to pay what the market requires, widen their internal knowledge base, or face the poacher’s hook.
Tom Broughton, executive editor