Meet our members – Sarah Chambers, Core Group member and Customer Working Group member

I very much welcomed the chance to be part of this endeavour as it appears to bring together a number of my past and present interests in a beguiling way.

I have previously been a regulator (telecoms, posts, product safety, general competition regulation, to name a few), and I also had responsibility within government for a small part of the renewables revolution, encouraging small scale renewable generation such as solar panels without breaking the bank. More recently, though, I have taken on a range of specific responsibilities in consumer advocacy and consumer protection in a number of sectors, so I have developed a particular interest in ensuring that regulators and the companies they regulate take full and proper account of the consumer interest as they carry out their functions. This was a great opportunity to take that forward in the domain of energy, a sector where the pace and scale of change means that engagement with customers and stakeholders is more important than ever.

On the Customer Engagement Group (CEG) for UK Power Networks, my background in economics, government and regulation should be of some use, as it has given me a feel for how regulators and regulated companies respond to challenges such as those facing us today. My more recent work as the voice of customers in sectors such as aviation and legal services has also given me a passion, as well as some useful tips, on how to ensure that the interest of users are really placed front and centre of the business and regulatory planning process.

It is so easy for both the network operator and the regulator to become distracted by lobbying from the experts who deal with energy issues on a daily basis. I see the role of the CEG as keeping both company and regulator true to what I know they want to achieve, which is to ensure that ’real people’ (i.e. all of us who use and depend on the electricity network) are given the priority they deserve in the development of the network operator’s business plan and the setting of their regulatory incentives. ‘Real people’ includes domestic users, including the vulnerable; business users, from micro-businesses to SMEs to large businesses; and a range of others, such as local authorities, who have significant interests in how the network develops. Though the large businesses and local authorities can to some extent speak for themselves and tend to have a seat at the table, so they are probably less in need of us to ensure the customer voice is heard. All of these, to some extent, have an interest not only in the obvious ’consumer’ issues such as price, reliability and service responsiveness, but also in climate change and how the electricity that they will be using in years to come will be produced responsibly, with a view to the move towards zero-carbon and to the environment in general. And yes, I am one of those real people, as a customer of UK Power Networks.