An irresponsible but unsheathed blackmail stunt a few days ago by SSE has failed to attract the attention or the analysis it demands.
SSE is the company with three steel pylons falling down at Crossaig in north Kintyre because of ‘the weight of ice on the conductors’ – a matter whose accuracy must be investigated as the prevailing temperatures were very unlikely to breed ice at that level.
SSE owns Scottish Hydro.
It was reported on Friday, during our broadband outage, that SSE:
- was cutting over 20% of its generating capacity – 2,000 MW – losing 160 jobs over the next 12 months;
- was saying that this is being done because a number of its facilities are now not economically viable;
- giving notice that it is delaying investment in new energy generation until 2015;
- ascribing this decision to ‘uncertainty’ in the electricity market with the Energy Bill on passage through the UK parliament.
SSE’s CEO, Iain Marchant, announcing his company’s cutting of generating capacity, had the chutzpah then to warn of the ‘very real risk of the lights going out’. Well – Yes. He’s turning them off. That’s not a risk. It’s an act of war.
The energy companies are prepared literally to hold the UK government hostage by cutting capacity and making alarmist public threats.
Their purpose is to squeeze higher energy subsidies in the sector’s famous double whammy of generous subsidies on the one hand and constant price hikes to customers on the other. Nice work if you can get it. They can and they do.
The baldness of this blackmail stunt could not clarify more powerfully the follow of the privatisation of utilities.
Ambitious Home Secretary, Theresa May, recently said – in defending yet another proposed privatisation – that the public sector is not a natural service provider.
That is historically correct in the UK, in terms of inefficiencies, strikes, featherbedding and what the newspaper industry used to call ‘Spanish practices’.
However, it is irresponsible and feeble minded not to confront the alternative: How can the state become a first class provider of essential services? Because it must.
These do not have to be run by those whose public sector background is inappropriate. Management teams can be recruited from the private sector, with their responsibilities, rewards and accountability intelligently specified.
Many places across the UK today – and pre-eminently in Scotland and Northern Ireland, have been without power for days on end.
In the same time frame, a major energy company with so great a delivery responsibility here, chooses to step into the public spotlight to hold a gun to the head of national government in saying ‘We’re turning off over 20% of our generating capacity until you guarantee us greater subsidies’.
How much more warning do we need of what lies ahead if we don’t start thinking newly of what we must control and own ourselves to guarantee our sustainability?
This SSE move was surreally bold and can only have been made in the certainty of its perception of a susceptible central government at Westminster.
Imagine the ducks and drakes they would play with a new and instantly swamped independent Scottish government and a flash flood of newbie civil servants.