James Ashton: Energy bosses' failure to show up for parliamentary grilling may haunt them

Outlook It used to be that the main business of politics took place in the chambers and meeting rooms of the Houses of Parliament. Take a look at yesterday's agenda if proof were required that the power wielded by our elected members has crossed the road to Portcullis House. This is where the big issues of the day are being addressed: rising power bills, struggling banks and the ailing high street.

Before the Big Six energy bosses were grilled, the hapless Co-op banking boss Barry Tootell was forced to explain to the Treasury Select Committee how the ethical lender found itself so short of capital as it attempted to buy the Verde branches from Lloyds. To blame, in part, the payment protection insurance scandal for the balance sheet black hole is a bit rich. If the Co-op hadn't mis-sold to customers in the first place, it wouldn't have had to carry the cost of repaying them, now would it?

For the early risers, there was also former Iceland boss and self-appointed retail guru Bill Grimsey passing judgement on how to save our shopping thoroughfares for the benefit of the Business, Innovation and Skills committee.

To dismiss the workings of these committees as generating plenty of heat but not much light is an outmoded view. The timely review from Margaret Hodge's public accounts committee into the Thameslink upgrade, a fiasco that once again questions whether government has the skills to manage major infrastructure projects, provides plenty of evidence to support that.

The select committees have long ago moved on from kangaroo courts where ill-briefed politicians compete to deliver soundbites. Andrew Tyrie and Jesse Norman on the Treasury committee are landing more than punches these days. Peter Lilley and Tim Yeo on Energy are similarly clued up to investigate whether the narrow range of this latest round of price rises is tantamount to collusion.

Over several years of inquiries, the banking industry has learnt to take select committees seriously. Bob Diamond's car-crash performance spelled the premature end to his career at Barclays. Some lay blame for Paul Tucker failing to succeed Lord King as Governor of the Bank of England on his appearance as part of the Libor investigation.

All of which makes it even more inexplicable that most energy companies treated yesterday's hearing so casually. The fact is, they may have represented the Big Six, but the so-called bosses that turned up to give evidence were distinctly medium-sized.

Where was Vincent de Rivaz, EDF Energy's real boss? Presumably still counting the profit the company will make from striking a deal to build a new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point.

From Centrica, Sam Laidlaw and the newly promoted Chris Weston were both absent, instead dispatching Ian Peters, British Gas's newest whipping boy, to take the bullets.

But the biggest surprise was the absence of Npower's Paul Massara, the rising anti-hero of the energy sector. He finds the time to pen columns for Sunday newspapers and tweet about his rivals' price increases, but not to face the music when government representatives ask him to do so.

The broader point is that, other than the odd soundbite captured on TV news bulletins, here is the forum through which bosses can be seen explaining themselves, warts and all, to their customers. Not even showing up shows a greater disregard than hiking prices in tandem in the first place.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Senior SEO Executive

£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before