Npower chief accused of dodging the watchdogs

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The Independent Online

Margaret Hodge, the chairwoman of Parliament's public spending watchdog, has condemned the chief executive of RWE npower for failing to face her committee during extraordinarily hostile exchanges with his substitute.

Paul Massara, who has led the big six energy company since January last year, had been asked to give evidence to yesterday's hearing of the Public Accounts Committee over the impact of infrastructure investment on water and energy bills.

Instead, he sent his more junior head of policy and public affairs, John McElroy, even though Mr Massara had found time in the morning and the previous evening to fulfil media commitments. Mrs Hodge asked Dr McElroy: "Paul Massara had dinner with journalists and toured the studios on [BBC Radio 4's] Today programme and 5 Live. Why isn't he here? What's he doing that's more important than accounting himself to his customers before Parliament? He's chosen not to be here and I don't take to that very kindly."

Dr McElroy said that he "was not exactly certain" of his boss's whereabouts, before firing back that RWE was "mystified" as to why the company had been called to the grilling of utility companies and regulators.

Mrs Hodge countered that this was a "rather pathetic response", while the Labour MP Austin Mitchell accused Dr McElroy of "not being able to speak with the same authority" as Mr Massara would have done. The MPs' committee asked whether loans taken out by overseas companies also owned by the foreign parents of RWE UK and Thames Water led to inflated bills. RWE is German and Thames Water is backed by Australia's Macquarie.

Mrs Hodge accused an RWE vehicle based in Malta, which loaned the UK business £2.3bn, of being "tax avoidance". Dr McElroy dismissed the claim, arguing that this had "no impact on the UK whatsoever".

Nick Fincham, Thames Water's director of strategy and regulation, also faced criticism for the £4bn plan to replace London's 19th century sewers with the Thames Tideway tunnel. Mrs Hodge, a possible Labour mayoral candidate for the capital in 2016, said this "would lumber Londoners with £80 a year extra on their bills".