What will happen to the smart meter programme now that the chair of Smart Energy GB has been ousted?
Baroness McDonagh found out in a call to the Energy Secretary Amber Rudd that her two-year stint is now over. McDonagh had called for a big-hitting private-sector manager to come and run the rollout of smart meters across the UK. She was openly critical of the ability of the public sector to manager such a large programme on time and within budget. And now she is gone.
Obviously politics are involved here, but let’s put the politics to one side and just consider what it means for the industry. Will the smart meter programme work or not?
On the negative side there is the message this sends to others who are critical of the current approach. If the chair can find that she is fired just for suggesting a new management approach is needed then will anyone lower down the hierarchy speak out about problems? This is a classic leadership issue. If you make the team fear that they will lose their position, status, or livelihood by being honest then a culture of fear and silence is created. That is not good for the government or for the industry.
The Institute of Directors has warned that it looks like a disaster waiting to happen. Specifically they have warned that this is the largest ever government-run IT project in history and is fraught with risk.
The Smart Energy GB programme is set to cost the government £10.9bn and aims to install over 50 million smart meters in 26 million homes across Great Britain by 2020. It is estimated that consumers can immediately save £17bn by using metered energy rather than estimates.
In the Diginomica blog, Derek du Preez commented:
“Experience tells me that there is no smoke without fire when it comes to these large government projects – as soon as people start pointing to problems, whilst the public sector leaders start claiming ‘everything is fine’, I start to get worried.”
In my opinion, this is the problem. The UK government should accept that the public sector has a patchy record on large-scale technology projects – at best. This is not a criticism of the government, or a partisan comment, however it remains a fact that government is not best suited to rolling out these enormous projects.
The truth about the problems is obscured by the argument over McDonagh’s exit. If she was exaggerating the need for better management then it should be easy to point to a delivery plan and to show that things are on track. However, many industry insiders and trade bodies are backing her comments and by her removal a culture of silence has been created.
Personally, I would recommend a review of the independent report completed last year where the present approach was verified. If the updated review confirms that all is on track then that’s fine, but there should also be a willingness to change approach if the report finds otherwise.
The potential savings from this smart meter programme are too great for the nation to ignore. We can’t get caught up in partisan politics and electioneering to the point that nobody can criticise the approach. Let’s independently verify who is right – this project is too big and important for energy in the UK to be allowed to fail.
Photo by Digitpedia Gadgets licensed under Creative Commons.