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Crisis of Parliamentary trust in energy industry grows

Published:14 January 2013
Fieldwork:8 June - 14 August 2012
Keywords:Electricity, Energy, Gas
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Trust in the energy industry to deliver genuine competition, protect the vulnerable, offer clear choices and promote environmental improvements has fallen significantly among MPs over the last three years, says a survey independently funded by Ipsos MORI. On balance, MPs are more likely to distrust than trust the energy industry to:
  • Move as quickly as possible towards lower carbon generation methods (16% trust, 36% distrust)
  • Protect the poor and vulnerable from high energy prices (3% trust, 79% distrust)
  • Offer genuine competition in electricity supply (10% trust, 73% distrust)
  • Provide clear information so customers can choose between suppliers (1% trust, 86% distrust)

MPs do, on balance, trust the energy industry to keep the lights on in Britain, now and in the future, promote energy efficiency and insulation, and to be innovative and forward thinking, but in all cases the level of trust has declined since our previous survey in 2009.

The greatest decline of all is in relation to offering genuine competition in energy supply. In 2009 23% of MPs trusted the industry to deliver this, while 54% distrusted it. In this summer’s survey, trust has fallen by 13 percentage points to 10% while distrust has increased by 19 points to 73%. This scepticism about the reality of effective competition and the facilitation of clear choices between suppliers is a key focus of criticism. With the issue of information on choices already, in 2009, the main area of distrust among MPs, the energy regulator, Ofgem, set up the Retail Market Review to examine many aspects of information provision, including tariffs, bills and notification letters. But this initiative has yet to improve MPs’ trust that the energy suppliers can be brought to heel.

There is a large degree of agreement across the two sides of the House. For example, the proportion distrusting the industry to offer genuine competition is 73% among both Conservative MPs and Labour MPs. Furthermore this cross party accord even extends to views of the way the energy industry protects the poor and vulnerable from high energy prices – 78% of Conservatives and 80% of Labour MPs distrust the industry in this respect. There is less of a consensus on moving as quickly as possible towards lower carbon generation methods, an issue clouded by differing opinions of energy generation methods and attitudes to the phenomenon of climate change. Among Conservatives, 20% trust the industry to move quickly towards lower carbon generation methods while 25% distrust it. Among Labour MPs, trust is just 11% while distrust reaches 44%.

A separate study among energy consumers earlier in 2012, conducted by Ipsos MORI for Ofgem showed that MPs’ views are broadly reflective of the unfavourable balance of trust felt by the public, though perhaps exceed the degree of distrust that ordinary consumers feel. Among energy consumers, 34% trust the energy suppliers to be open and transparent in their dealings with consumers, while 39% distrust it. Over a quarter (28%) are unable or unwilling to decide either way.

Director at Ipsos MORI Reputation Centre Robert Knight, said:

"This study underlines the critical importance of trust to the energy industry and the way it impacts on the industry's 'licence to operate' in Britain. The energy companies need to keep MPs updated on the various industry initiatives, that are designed to address these issues."

Technical note

92 face to face interviews were conducted amongst MPs (Conservative 39, Labour 39, Lib Dem 10 and Other 3) between 8th June and 14th August 2012. The data has been weighted so that the survey is representative of the House by party allegiance and front/back bench status. 

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Carl Phillips
Carl Phillips

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