Energy UK held its annual conference last week across the road from the Houses of Parliament. However, the venue may as well have been on a different planet.
Nobody from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) even turned up. The no-show seemed doubly strange given that the event took place hot on the heels of two of the biggest energy policy moves in recent years – the publication of the draft price cap legislation and the Clean Growth Strategy.
Instead, it was left to a junior minister at the Scottish Office to fly the flag for the government.
It fell to Caroline Flint, Labour’s hammer of the utilities during her spell as Ed Miliband’s shadow energy and climate change secretary, to make the case for the price cap.
If BEIS ministers had turned up, they would have heard a note of barely concealed exasperation from the one big six boss who put his head above the parapet on the day. Eon chief executive Michael Lewis was clearly frustrated that the message is not getting across that the solution to lower prices is better competition rather than price regulation.
Maybe ministers didn’t want to be put on the spot about their commitment to a cap, which has been put into doubt by reports that BEIS officials have briefed investors that the legislation won’t ultimately be implemented.
However, energy companies and ministers need to find a way to communicate in order to prevent the capping debate developing a momentum that does lasting damage to the industry and its customers. Getting together in the same room would help.