While the unedifying political row over Britain’s membership of the EU has dragged on for almost three years, life – and work – outside the Westminster bubble has carried on for the industry.
Energy and water companies have continued to make big calls on delivering lifeline services to millions of customers – despite a Beast from the East, freak droughts, a string of winter storms, relentless technological change and increasingly demanding government and regulatory targets.
As one industry executive noticeably disillusioned with politicians put it to me this week: “I just look at parliament’s lack of decision-making and know that shambles would never, ever happen in our business.”
As our special Brexit report (p6) reveals, utilities are striving to keep calm in the face of the ongoing uncertainty, from interconnector projects and emissions trading, to security and access to resources. Fortunately for industry, some important groundwork has been done – such as over the UK’s departure from the Euratom treaty and Ofgem’s modification of rules for interconnectors to enable trade to continue – for now. The government has also worked closely with the water sector on port and customs arrangements to maintain chemical imports vital for the water supply in the event of no deal.
Yet industry leaders remain “constantly vigilant” and preparing for the worst. A senior network source I spoke to this week declined to publicly join the Brexit debate but privately admitted to having “long been stockpiling hardware”.
Such prolonged uncertainty, said another, is “the enemy of long-term planning, confidence and investment for utilities”. Meanwhile, one water chief executive writing recently for Utility Week called on the government to get on with the job.
Taking the true temperature of an industry is never easy, but the mood music being picked up by Utility Week is that the softer Brexit the House of Commons seems to be inching towards could be the best option for utilities – particularly for energy companies, where close EU alignment would do much to help an industry working across borders.
We can only hope that by this time next week we will know for sure.
- Utility Week’s Energy Summit ‘Delivering a robust future for UK energy in a post-Brexit landscape’ takes place in London on 13 June. Download details at https://event.utilityweek.co.uk/summit/