The energy industry’s leading trade association is to wait until after the General Election before appointing a new chief executive amid intense political scrutiny of the sector.
Sky News understands that Energy UK, whose members include each of the ‘big six’ residential gas and electricity suppliers, has decided to wait until the middle of 2015 before recruiting a permanent successor to Angela Knight, who will step down at the end of the month.
The decision by Energy UK underlines the scale of concern within the industry about the political climate at a time when tens of billions of infrastructure spending is required for modernisation programmes.
Some board members are understood to have pushed for the delay to enable the appointment of a new boss with strong connections to the party that leads the next administration.
“The timing of the election makes it impossible to pick a chief executive and be sure that they are the right person to lead the organisation,” said an executive at one of the big utilities.
National Grid recently warned that the UK was at its highest risk of winter blackouts for seven years, while the major energy retailers – British Gas, EDF, EON, Npower, Scottish Power and SSE – have been at the centre of a string of mis-selling scandals and pricing rows.
Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, has pledged to freeze retail prices for 20 months if he becomes Prime Minister, while Ofgem, the industry regulator, has referred the energy suppliers to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) for a full investigation.
The CMA intends to publish its provisional findings and possible remedies in May or June next year, and could recommend far-reaching measures including the enforced separation of companies’ power generation and supply activities.
Last month, Energy UK confirmed the appointment of Sir David Arculus, a City grandee who previously chaired Severn Trent, as its new chairman.
The trade body also said that Lawrence Slade, its chief operating officer, would become interim chief executive from January 1, although it did not say how long the role would be filled on a temporary basis.
Mr Slade is likely to be a leading candidate for the job, which is an increasingly public-facing post as energy companies acknowledge the need to explain commercial decisions to their customers.
Sir David will take over from Lord Spicer, a former Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Energy during the premiership of Margaret Thatcher.
Lord Spicer was on the board of the Association of Electricity Producers before it was absorbed into Energy UK as part of efforts by the industry to promote a more co-ordinated approach to key issues.
The new chairman said on his appointment: “This is a time of major change for the industry and for the country as old power stations are closed and cleaner greener electricity generators are built. This vital industry deserves a clear, strong voice.
“I look forward to getting to grips with the key three-fold challenge of balancing energy security with the low carbon agenda and with bills which people and industry can afford.”