LETTER: Real cost of the power game

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IN HIS article last Sunday, Roger Trapp wrote that PowerGen and National Power have "cut their combined staff numbers from 25,000 to less than 10,000" since being carved out of the old Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) on privatisation in 1991 ("Off with their overheads", Business, 10 December). He used this statistic to demonstrate how "bloated and inefficient" the old nationalised industries had been.

As the General Secretary of the Electrical Power Engineers' Association until April 1991, I can state that those figures justify no such judgement. The old CEGB was responsible not only for all the generating capacity handed over to PowerGen and National Power, but also for the nuclear capacity handed to Nuclear Electric, for the hydro power stations and for the entire transmission network owned by the National Grid Company.

The CEGB was responsible for ensuring adequate supplies in England and Wales, as well as for research. Both of these were public interest responsibilities which no one is now required to discharge. Some research is still done by PowerGen and National Power, but it amounts to very little in comparison.

One other thing: from the time of privatisation, gas was allowed as a power station fuel when previously it had been forbidden. The two power companies have gas-fired power stations needing 20 or 30 staff instead of the several hundred required by coal-fired stations.

In the five years up to 1987 the publicly-owned electricity supply industry brought down the real cost of electricity by 17 per cent. To prepare the industry for privatisation, the Government reversed this and pushed up the real cost by 10 per cent. Only now, following the mostly unnecessary loss of thousands of jobs of skilled and professional people, is the real cost being brought back to its level of eight years ago.

John Lyons

London NW9