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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Smart meter scheme loses chairman

Smart meter

The organisation promoting the rollout of smart meters has lost its chairman weeks after she questioned how the government-led programme was being run.

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The BBC understands Energy Secretary Amber Rudd refused to support the reappointment of Baroness McDonagh, the inaugural chairman of Smart Energy GB.

Baroness McDonagh, who had called for more private sector input in the rollout, denies that she was sacked.

Senior figures in the industry have raised concerns over the move.

Phone call

It is understood that Baroness McDonagh heard the news that she would not be continuing in her role in a phone call with the energy secretary late on Monday afternoon.

Her two-year tenure as chairman ended at midnight that evening.

Two weeks earlier she had called for the government to appoint a chief executive from the private sector to run the huge smart meter rollout project.

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“As we know from experience, governments are not good at big infrastructure projects because it’s not their business” she said.

The government rejected the call, insisting that an independent review of the programme in 2014 had backed the current delivery model.

In a statement posted on the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) website, Ms Rudd thanked Baroness McDonagh for her service and contribution to Smart Energy GB.

“She’s played an important role to build the organisation from its inception,” she said.

“I look forward to working closely with a new chair on the delivery of this programme, which will bring the benefits of smart meters to British households and businesses”.

Smart Energy GB chief executive Sacha Deshmukh circulated the news by email to industry stakeholders on Tuesday.

His email, seen by the BBC, said that “the secretary of state has decided to exercise her power to reject the renewal of Margaret McDonagh for a second term as non-executive chair of Smart Energy GB”.

He added: “I’ve been assured by DECC that the department’s support for our organisation… remains absolutely strong even as the SoS and chair have worked through their personal dialogue and ultimately the SoS’s decision on her appointment.”

Industry concerns

But some in the energy industry have voiced concerns over the move.

“She said there is a problem – two weeks later she’s fired,” a director at a Big Six energy firm told the BBC. “What does that mean for people who raise questions about the smart meter programme? That is the issue.”

Smart Meters can help consumers reduce bills by allowing more efficient energy use.

The meters communicate directly with energy suppliers allowing automatic meter readings.

Energy suppliers have been tasked by the government to install smart meters in all homes in the UK by 2020.

But the programme has suffered a series of set-backs and delays.

The Institute of Directors has warned that the scheme could be an “IT disaster” saying that the risks involved with “the largest government-run IT project in history” were “staggering”.

In a statement Margaret McDonagh said: “Setting up Smart Meter GB has been an exciting and fulfilling project, and I am proud that the organisation is now firmly established and able to support millions of consumers who want to take greater control of their energy use.”

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