Let’s talk about people. Yes, we’re a network, and yes we own and operate lots of very important pieces of kit that are crucial to the safe and efficient delivery of electricity across our patch. And yes there is more technological innovation happening now than ever before, especially so in the North West. But the why and the how is all about people.
We do all of this because electricity is critical to all our lives, and it’s becoming even more important. We do it by investing in our colleagues to deliver our programme of work and to come up with new ideas to continuously improve our business, the service we provide our customers and to speed up the transition to a low carbon economy.
I’ve been the CEO of Electricity North West for two years now, and I’m proud of what we’ve achieved and how far we’ve come. We’ve got some incredible innovative projects being delivered at the moment, a £20 million new network management system getting us ready to operate as a distribution systems operator, and our innovative CLASS project where we’re successfully using the technology in our substations to provide services through the capacity market to National Grid.
Because of the dramatic pace of change in the industry, we recently took on an exercise to fundamentally reassess what we were here for. We’ve worked closely with colleagues across the business to update and improve our Purpose and Principles as an organisation. The “what are we here for?” and the “how should we do it?” questions.
400 colleagues (25 per cent of the workforce) were involved in our workshops, and jointly agreed a bold purpose: “Together we have the energy to transform our communities”. That’s what we’re doing every day. It’s forward looking and sets out what the company does and the value we bring.
Our principles set out how we operate and what’s important to us. Firstly, our people take pride in what we do because it matters. Secondly, we are switched on to colleagues, customers and the world around us. And thirdly, we’re adaptable, always looking for better ways to get things done.
The energy system is changing, our role is getting bigger and people are becoming more dependent on us than ever, from big business, to customers in fuel poverty struggling to pay the bills.
11 per cent of households in the North West are in fuel poverty, rising to 15 per cent in Manchester. That’s 360,000 homes. While it’s not always immediately obvious how a network operator can help alleviate fuel poverty – aside from keeping our small proportion of the bill down – we are in a unique position to act.
Over the past year we have set up three referral networks in the North West, working with Citizens Advice, Energy Saving Trust and Greater Manchester Combined Authority to help customers who need it most, to access the advice and services they need.
Last month Ofgem published its 2018 “vulnerable consumers in the energy market” report. While focusing on suppliers, the report looks at networks too, highlighting our licence obligations and incentives to protect vulnerable customers. We also have an entirely separate social responsibility as a large company, working closely in our communities providing an essential monopoly service.
A power cut or significant disruption to supplies can, in some cases, make people very vulnerable, very quickly. We’re more alert to that than ever before, and recognising vulnerability in all its forms – including transient vulnerability – is key to our strategies.
Ofgem state that suppliers can learn from initiatives set up by distribution network companies to support consumers in vulnerable situations, and of course, that networks can always do more.
During this unprecedented period of change it’s important to keep an eye on the huge breadth of our responsibilities to our customers, both technologically and socially. We really do believe that together we have the energy to transform our communities.