The Public Interest = The Private Interest
OFGEM is clear about its role and remit: 'Protecting consumers is Ofgem’s first priority. We do this by promoting competition, wherever appropriate, and regulating the monopoly companies which run the gas and electricity networks. Other priorities and influences include: helping to secure Britain’s energy supplies by promoting competitive gas and electricity markets - and regulating them so that there is adequate investment in the networks' .
Thus Coulthard, as OFGEM Director General for Scotland was involved in liberalising the Energy Market in Scotland by lifting price controls. In 2000 he said, that:
- These proposals taken together will significantly liberalise the Scottish electricity market. At the same time, the methods proposed will increase competition on a cross-border basis among generators and suppliers. This can only benefit customers in Scotland. The reality is that competition in gas and electricity in Scotland has moved on significantly since it began more than two years ago. Today, everyone is benefiting from competition. Because of this, we believe that all remaining price controls can now be safely lifted.
In spite of the statements of Couthard in 2000 and OFGEM today the interests of consumers are not being protected by competition and the lifting of price controls. On the contrary: fuel poverty is now one of the main issues of the day. Since the lifting of price controls prices have risen greatly, despite the assurances given by Mr Coulthard at the time. In fact, ‘overall, in only two years (between 2004-2006), gas prices in Scotland have gone up 40 per cent and electricity prices by 30 per cent’. This has led to predictions that ‘the number of households facing fuel poverty - defined as spending 10 per cent or more of family income on gas and electricity - will double’.. 2008 has seen massive Gas Price rises. For instance Scottish Power raised its prices by 34% in August 2008, to such an extent that Age Concern Estimate 1 in 3 pensioners will be living in Fuel Poverty during winter 2009-09 .
Coulthard served as Deputy Director of the Office for the Regulation of Electricity and Gas in Northern Ireland between 1992 and 1999. He is also currently the Chair of Energywatch, the Gas and Electricity Consumers Council in Scotland.
Free market think tanks
In Coulthard, in 2000, spoke at the Institute of Economic Affairs' annual conference, ‘UK Energy: Creating value in a competitive market’. He is also a member of the David Hume Institute, a neoliberal think tank that supports market solutions and approaches in determining economic well-being.
Mr Coultard is also currently employed, by the devolved executive in Northern Ireland as part of a four person review into the future of financing there and possible future water governance and ownership models. Mr Coulthard, alongside his fellow review panel members has been trailed as an 'independent' . Given his support for market based approaches in his role at the Water Industry Commission for Scotland and OFGEM its difficult to see how he can be described as independent: his views and his record are certainly different from the overwhelming public support in N. Ireland for public ownership and charges to be paid for through general taxation.
Interestingly, a company that Mr Coulthard's fellow Water Industry Commission for Scotland Colleague, Sir Ian Byatt, works for, Frontier Economics is also currently involved in N.Ireland. Frontier Economics is employed as a consultant by Northern Ireland Water to 'provide a range of advice and training on the efficiency of its service provision. Frontier will also work with NIW to develop an efficiency model that allows NIW to better understand its relative efficiency and the factors that determine it'. They also spoke of how N.Ireland needs to establish a regulatory framework similar to that in England and Wales and Scotland, but that there are specific and unique challenges and difficulties there - IE mass and organised political and public opposition . Their rhetoric is perhaps euphimisms for Frontier Economics going to help develop Northern Ireland Water commercialise in a way that attempts to avoid the public glare.'
- member Kilsyth Community Council
- member and Scottish Chairman Gas and Electricity Consumers Council in Scotland.
- member Independent Water Review Panel for Northern Ireland
- Consumer Council for Northern Ireland
- OFGEM,About US, Accessed September 5th 2008
- Hermes Database, May 10, 2000, Office Of Gas & Electricity Markets Ofgem Proposes Reform Of Scottish Electricity Industry
- Coulthard, C, Letter to the Editor, ‘Bringing choice and value to customers’, The Herald (Glasgow), February 19, 2002 Pg. 19
- The Scotsman Leader Column, ‘Gas customers held to ransom’ , February 18, 2006, Pg. 25
- The Daily Record, '34% New Gas Price Shocker', August 30 2008, Pg. 1
- Utility Week, October 2000
- Minute of the twenty-fourth meeting of the Water Industry Commission for Scotland Held on 6 and 7 March 2007 in Stirling
- Northern Ireland Executive, Department for Regional Development Press Release, 28th January - Review of Water and Sewerage Services: Strand 2 Report, Accessed 5th September 2008
- Frontier Economics, ''Frontier Advises Northern Ireland Water On Efficiency', Accessed 5th September 2008
- WICS Register of interests: Charles Coulthard