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Work Programme 2002-03

  1. This paper sets out UNISON Scotland's comments on the Energywatch Forward Work Programme for 2002-2003. UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing 140,000 staff. We are also the largest union representing customer service staff in the energy industry.
  2. UNISON Scotland is supportive of a strong consumer voice for energy users and agrees that Energywatch has made a positive start in providing a distinct voice for consumers. In our response to the first work programme we were concerned that a Scottish office should be more than a cosmetic recognition of the distinct issues facing consumers in Scotland. We are particularly pleased that Energywatch Scotland has been able to provide such a voice and it is important that it is properly resourced to perform this function.
  3. In our last response we highlighted the importance of mis-selling in the industry. UNISON members have to deal with the consequences of mis-selling to often confused and vulnerable customers. We therefore welcomed the public campaign launched by Energywatch on this issue. We would urge Energywatch to continue with this campaign but also to recognise some of the underlying causes of mis-selling. A liberalised energy market has not been a panacea for the consumer. Marketing has often triumphed over clarity in pricing structures and the consumer has been left confused and vulnerable to pressure sales tactics.
  4. The Energy Policy Review is particularly important to Scotland with its unique integrated electricity industry. UNISON Scotland believes it is important that a distinct Scottish energy strategy is developed to recognise these circumstances and the split in powers between the UK and Scottish parliaments. This does not appear to be recognised in the work programme.
  5. We recognise that Energywatch has often taken a distinct position that is sometimes at odds with the views of the regulator Ofgem. UNISON Scotland believes that Ofgem often drives a UK agenda at the expense of Scotland and that whilst we may not always agree with Energywatch we welcome dissenting voices to the economic orthodoxy promoted by Ofgem.
  6. UNISON Scotland supports the drive to improve customer service in energy companies. It should be recognised that customer service is often the poor relation within energy companies as competition and cost cutting puts increasing pressure on services which are perceived not to contribute directly to company profits. Many customer service staff are overworked and overstressed, working with inadequate staffing levels and systems.
  7. The extensive use of temporary and agency staff does not assist in developing the essential knowledge and skills that are required to assist consumers. Staff training and development is important to consumer service and the staff concerned are also entitled to dignity and respect and work. The perceived customers failures of energy companies are often visited on front line staff who have to bear the brunt of customer complaints.
  8. The metrics used to measure company performance do not always reflect the quality of service and we would be concerned if this was replicated in the proposed COMPARE system. We would urge Energywatch to involve customer service staff in the development of this tool.
  9. We particularly welcome Energywatch's commitment to campaign for the eradication of fuel poverty as this aim matches with UNISON's Keeping Scotland Warm campaign. Whilst we welcome the publication of the government's fuel poverty strategy we believe much more can be done to eradicate fuel poverty.
  10. UNISON Scotland would be pleased to work in partnership with Energywatch on issues of common interest.

Dave Watson
Scottish Organiser (Utilities)

March 2002

For further information on UNISON Scotland's policy on the issues covered above please see this website or contact Dave Watson at UNISON House, 14 West Campbell Street, Glasgow G2 6RX Tel: 0845 355 0845.