Energy select committee invites public to join 'big six' grilling via Twitter

The Energy and Climate Change Select Committee has set up a Twitter hashtag, #AskEnergyFirms, to invite members of the public to submit questions they want it to pose to energy companies next week.

Grilling: William Morris, managing director of retail at SSE, which is scheduled to appear in front of the committee
Grilling: William Morris, managing director of retail at SSE, which is scheduled to appear in front of the committee

On Tuesday (16 April) the committee will interview executives from British Gas, EDF, E.ON, NPower, Scottish Power, Scottish & Southern Energy (recently fined a record £10.5m for mis-selling), Scottish Power, Good Energy and Ovo Energy.

Committee member and Labour MP John Robertson has used Twitter to promote the initiative:

According to Bell Pottinger Public Affairs chairman Tim Collins, it is the first time a select committee has taken this step.

Collins told PRWeek: ‘This means that select committee preparation has become even more important than it was before and that clients are going to have to be much more active about the linkages they make between their public affairs strategy and their social media strategy.

‘If they find themselves in the middle of a Twitter storm at the moment, it can be damaging in one sense but they have the option of not replying to it. Once you feed in select committees they don’t have the option of not replying, so they have to be even more agile than they thought.’

Also commenting on the move, Grayling Public Affairs managing director Richard Jukes said: ‘The select committee system was intended as a way for Parliament to scrutinise the effect and reach of Government policy and the Committee Members themselves should be the final arbiter of what to ask and of whom. 

'But reaching out to the wider public to inform those questions, and engaging more people in the democratic process, is important – provided Parliament retains final control of questioning, and is not reduced to becoming simply a virtual switchboard.'

Before the committee's move, Jukes observed in a column in this week's print issue of PRWeek that select committees have become increasingly media-savvy following a change in their consititution near the end of the last Parliament.

'Since 2010, chairmen and members have had to stand for election rather than rely on party managers to recognise and reward talent and loyalty through the old system of appointment.

'Freed from the shackles of patronage, these new-style committees have been exploring their increased autonomy. A new breed is emerging that has recognised the potential media platform that membership affords and embraced it wholeheartedly.

'MPs serving on committees are under pressure to make their mark – why else would they have been elected, if not to shine?

'Greater publicity has also meant that select committees are conducting ever more inquiries into a growing range of issues. There has already been a fivefold increase in the number of inquiries so far this Parliament compared with the last – many of which are expected to deliver instant judgements and instant solutions.

'Greater publicity can mean greater pressure to land the killer blow, with questioning sometimes designed to demonstrate guilt rather than uncover truth. Is this brave new world generating more heat than light? We are becoming used to being served up instant villains, neatly packaged for the nightly news.'

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