Posts Tagged ‘Scottish and Southern Energy’

From 2013: Private Eye on Energy Miss-selling and Connections to Banks

March 22, 2015

One of the other scandals to have hit this country is overcharging and miss-selling by the energy companies. The majority of people in this country would like to see the power companies renationalised. It has, however, become the modern economic dogma that as much of the economy should be in private hands as possible, ever since they were privatised, along with gas and water, by the Tories. Nevertheless, public outrage has been so intense that Cameron recently made a few gestures towards getting energy prices. Much more optimistic is Ed Miliband’s pledge to lower electricity prices and to make sure that they stay down and affordable.

In their edition for 19th April – 2nd May 2013, Private Eye published this article on Scottish and Southern Energy’s miss-selling. They also revealed the involvement of senior bankers, including officials from the Bank of England, who should have been guarding against such fraud.

Energy Miss-Selling
Fried Rice

The shockwave caused by the record £10.tm fine for Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE), punished by regulators for lying to customers about non-existent savings, has reached all the way to the Bank of England.

According to Ofgen, there was a “woeful catalogue of failure” by SSE managers, who allowed “a culture of miss-selling to continue. They weren’t doing enough to prevent sharp selling practices from their selling agents. They actually provided misleading sales scripts.”

All this is very embarrassing for Lady Susan Rice, SSE Group’s senior independent director, who has been on the SSE board since 2003 – and since 2007 has also been a director of the Bank of England where, somewhat alarmingly as a seasoned blind-eye turner, she chairs the audit and risk committee.

“Independent” directors are meant to ask uncomfortable questions that puncture “groupthink”. But this clearly didn’t happen at SSE, which caused “substantial harm” to its customers, Ofgem says. “Failings did not just take place on the doorstep but also in the management.”

Attempts to rein in misbehaviour were also ineffective. While “SSE terminated doorstep sales in July 2011, failure in telephone and in-store sales persisted”. SSE staff were given sales scripts which claimed that switching to SSE was “just like the government intended”. One dishonest spiel ran: “What I’m here to do today is show you a government thing called deregulation which results in your energy prices being lowered by doing nothing at all.” The false claims actually led to bigger bills for customers.

“Lady Susan Rice is, and will continue to be, a highly valued director on the Court of the Bank of England,” was the reply when the Eye asked if the SSE scandal meant she should perhaps resign from her Threadneedle Street Post.

Rice was appointed at SSE thanks to her other job as managing director of Lloyds in Scotland, which she fits in between sitting on Scottish first minister Alex Salmond’s council of economic advisers, chairing the Edinburgh Festivals forum and the city’s book festival, chairing the Chartered Banker Professional Standards Board and sitting on the Oxford Said Business School advisory council. Not to mention the National Galleries Scotland’s patrons committee and something called the Finance Group on Climate Change.

Busy bee Rice isn’t the only member of the miss-selling SSE’s board with a banking background. Chairman Lord Robert Smith was a director of Standard Chartered, which was fined $340m for money laundering in deals with Iran – and like Rice he has a government job, too; last May Nick Clegg announced that he would lead the government-funded Green Investment Bank. He is also chairing the 2014 Commonwealth Games Organising Committee.

Also paying less attention that he should have been as SSE was Richard Gillingwater, a director (£54,000 last year) since 2007. Eye readers will remember him as chief executive of the government’s Shareholder Executive when it oversaw the sale of taxpayer-owned development fund CDC’s fund management arm, Actis, to its former managers for a pittance. Gillingwater is now chairman of CDC itself and has just retired as dean of the Cass business school, teaching up-and-coming suits, er, how to run businesses properly.

In other words, the culture of miss-selling in the banking sector, which led to the collapse of Northern Rock, and the present global economic crisis, spread to the energy companies, on whose boards bankers sat. Contributing to the banking crisis was the fact that the ‘independent’ directors there, who were supposed to check miss-selling and misconduct there, did no such thing. They turned a blind eye, just as Rice turned a blind eye to miss-selling by Scottish and Southern Energy.

Deregulation has not caused energy prices to come down, just as it the deregulation of the banks did not lead to improved and responsible trading. Anything but. It’s time these sectors were cleaned up. And Miliband is a far better bet to do this, than either the Tories or their Lib Dem sycophants. They won’t do anything at all.

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