From keeping the lights on and the taps flowing, to servicing Nightingale hospitals and supplying laptops to disadvantaged school children, utility companies have been doing the country proud throughout the pandemic.
Their role has been clear – protect colleagues, provide resilience in essential services and ensure continuity of supply, especially to critical sites and vulnerable individuals.
And now, as the sector leaders turn their attention beyond the immediate threats posed by the virus, an equally critical role for utilities in the long road to recovery for the UK is emerging. They will become the engine rooms of Build Back Better – drivers of a green recovery, lynch pins of their local communities, providing a much-needed stable pipeline of work to construction and other firms, and firms starved of a pipeline and with no support
The UK’s energy and water companies, and their supply chains, want to play a dynamic role in powering a green economic recovery and help the nation Build Back Better. In an open letter more than 200 chief executives from across the economy have urged the prime minister to ensure that any stimulus measures fit in with Britain’s and make the country more resilient to future shocks.
Utility company chiefs, including Peter Simpson of Anglian Water, Liz Barber of Yorkshire Water, Keith Anderson of Scottish Power, John Pettigrew of National Grid and Michael Lewis of Eon UK, were among the signatories.
Their views have been backed by a swathe of reports setting out specific ways this can be achieved. And Energy UK is set to issue a report this week with a five-point plan for putting the sector at the heart of the economy’s post-lockdown recovery, with a package of energy efficiency measures at its heart.
National Infrastructure Commission chair Sir John Armitt and SSE chief executive Alistair Phillips-Davies are also amongst those setting out recommendations to government, aimed at ensuring the green recovery is the centrepiece of the post-pandemic economic fightback.
With a Budget being widely expected to take place on July 8, the cries for this investment and policy changes to make this happen are set to get louder.
But how can we unlock a wave of essential infrastructure investment and deliver it in a way that will create jobs? What are the technical barriers? And how can we bring about an acceleration to market of new business models which can empower consumers to live more sustainably and affordably as well as offering better support to the most vulnerable and deliver affordable and sustainable services?
In the coming weeks, leading up to the Utility Week Build Back Better Forum in October, we will be exploring these challenges and showcasing the work energy and water firms are already undertaking to embrace the Build Back Better initiative
Our Build Back Better coverage will be framed around the ‘big questions’ through analysis, insight reports, interviews, comment and digital events and we’ll also be looking to highlight how utility companies are already starting to drive this agenda. We’ll be focusing our activities on four key strands:
- Utilities and the green economic recovery – looking at where the green jobs will come from; how a national energy efficiency programme can be rolled out; and what other schemes could be accelerated in the net-zero push.
- Utilities as engines of community recovery – examining how water and energy firms can best support supply chains, local businesses and work with local authorities to drive a greener and more sustainable environment
- Affordability and consumer protection in the post-coronavirus world – what firms can do to drive the fairness agenda, open a new chapter for the sector’s social contract and refresh their foundations for positive, productive relationships with multiple stakeholders, including customers and investors.
- Building Back Better businesses – showing how utilities can absorb lessons learned over the past few months about resilience, efficient operations, employee wellbeing and human resource management.
We kick off our coverage by asking utility thought leaders – what are quick wins to help drive the green recovery?
In quotes: why we need to Build Back Better
“Upgrading this country’s homes and buildings is the best possible policy for a green economic recovery for Britain, delivering more jobs, more economic stimulus, more quickly with more tangible impacts, including better health and wellbeing for more people across the country than any other single policy or project.”
Michael Lewis, CEO Eon UK
“This moment in time is pivotal on many levels, that’s why now it’s even more important to double down on climate action. Coronavirus has demonstrated only concerted, focused effort can solve a crisis – and that goes for the climate emergency too.
“Low-carbon investment is a win-win: providing a vital economic boost, creating skilled, sustainable jobs in all UK regions to support a just transition, improving air quality and building our resilience while also driving progress towards our climate change targets.”
Alistair Phillips-Davies, SSE Chief Executive
“The UK’s low carbon energy transition has already delivered numerous benefits in terms of lower cost energy, new jobs and falling emissions – and rebuilding after Covid-19 offers an opportunity to go further, faster. Stepping up in greening our big infrastructure, whether that’s our heating, buildings, or power stations will help small and large businesses all over the country.”
Emma Pinchbeck, incoming CEO, Energy UK
“My hope – and my plea to you – is that we align this obligation to act [against the impacts of climate change] with the opportunity to Build Back Better presented by the imminent recovery from Covid-19.”
Peter Simpson CEO Anglian Water and co-chair of the Corporate Leaders Group