Rule of the ‘Big Six’ could be over

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THE DAYS of the hegemony of the Big Six energy suppliers are numbered, a leading digital strategist has claimed.

Mark Coyle, strategy and marketing director at industry software specialist Utiligroup, said the energy sector would become increasingly diverse in terms of the number of suppliers and that it would in all likelihood begin to resemble the insurance market in terms of the plurality of options available to households.

Mr Coyle made his comments at a summit on the energy sector hosted by Yorkshire Building Society and MME, the new digital energy supply company.

He said: “The world is becoming more diverse with more innovation and entrepreneurialism. That’s going to create more companies.

“We won’t ever get back to the Big Six energy suppliers.

“It will be the Big 56, like in insurance. You will pick the one that is right for you.”

The summit also heard from Sir John Harman in his capacity as chairman of the think tank IPPR North’s Northern Energy Taskforce, which is developing an energy strategy for the North.

Sir John said the energy sector can help to create jobs and revenue across the North of England and help to power the Northern Powerhouse project.

The former Environment Agency chairman made the region had a “deep tradition” of being an epicentre for energy production and that he anticipated this would continue.

He said: “I was born in Castleford but you don’t need to have been born in a colliery town or the shadow of a power station to know that the North has this deep tradition of being the energy hub of the UK.

“The choice that the former Chancellor George Osborne made when he started talking about the Northern Powerhouse is actually an acknowledgement of that. It might have been subconscious but the Northern Powerhouse is what we have been. Time and technologies might have changed and yet we still hold quite a strong hand, both in terms of where the energy in this country is created and also where it is used. We also have a very wide skills base for the developing of energy economy of the future… It should be an opportunity but opportunities have to be grasped.”

Annie Faulder, co-founder of MME, said the new digital energy supply company can help tackle many of the social and economic challenges facing the North.

MME will work with partner organisations for mutual benefit to deliver cheaper energy bills, help reduce fuel poverty, generate new income streams and invest in local communities.

The profit-sharing digital company is in talks with local authorities, charities, housing associations and arts and cultural organisations ahead of its launch this summer.

MME has already obtained a licence to trade gas and electricity and has developed customer-friendly smart metering and software that will put households and small businesses in charge of their energy usage.

Ms Faulder told the event: “Although we are Leeds based, we want to see the benefits of job creation, apprenticeships and support for business, growth and innovation happen in our partner localities.

“We would like to be a supply company that helps drive the northern energy economy.”

Other speakers at the event included representatives from business, local government and the charity sector.

Katie Schmuecker, head of policy at Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said 50 per cent of people had never switched energy providers, which suggested they are paying much more than necessary for their gas and electricity. This is a much bigger issue for those on lower incomes, she added.

Emma Hoddinott, the local government officer at the Co-operative Party, said many small businesses are struggling to grow as their energy bills soar and councils are “picking up the pieces”.