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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
UNISON Scotland would be pleased to work in
partnership with Energywatch on issues of common interest.