Simon Read: 'Arrogant' bosses must be made to learn to listen


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The Independent Online

Heads of the Big Six energy firms SSE, EDF, E.on, Npower, Scottish Power and British Gas got a severe telling-off from MPs in a heated meeting at the House of Commons this week.

It was good to see the bosses squirming – I believe they fully deserve the opprobrium dumped on their heads. For far too long they've got away with increasing prices and forcing more people into fuel poverty until they are barely able to afford to pay their heating bills.

Some of the exchanges were classic. MPs generally accused the energy bosses of cheating and misleading customers.

Alistair Phillips-Davies, deputy chief executive of SSE, was told he was using "weasel words" and ordered to apologise for the "illegal and misleading" sales scripts which led to a record fine of £10.5m being slapped on his company earlier this month.

E.on's chief, Tony Cocker, was made to squirm when he was forced to admit he didn't know if his firm was "squeaky clean" and free of widespread misselling. Labour MP John Robertson leapt on that to tell the blushing boss that his answer "wasn't good enough".

Mr Robertson was right. The energy firms' chiefs have been called before the energy and climate change committee several times and on each occasion they have largely appeared arrogant and self-satisfied.

The biggest headlines from this week's sessions actually came from Npower boss Paul Massara who told MPs his firm hadn't paid UK corporation tax for the past three years. It was almost a casual aside which seemed to suggest he didn't think there was anything wrong with that.

The subsequent outrage made him think again and the company spent the rest of the week trying to repair the damage and put a positive spin on its lack of tax payments, even admitting that it had, after all, paid some corporation tax, but just very little.

The whole episode seems typical of the energy giants which seem unable to understand the widespread anger at their massive profits when millions of people are struggling to pay their bills.

They must learn soon.

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