The idea for Cornwall Together was literally dreamt up by the Eden Project’s energy manager, Matt Hastings.
Mr Hastings, who was recently named UK Energy Manager of the Year, said: “The whole thing started about 18 months ago when I woke up in the middle of the night and began thinking about how the problem of fuel poverty could be tackled in Cornwall.
“My day job is all about trying to fix Eden in terms of its energy expenditure and emissions. But I am also extremely passionate about eradicating fuel poverty because it is absurd that a developed and wealthy nation like ours has more than five million households in this situation.”
Households in “fuel poverty” are defined as those that spend more than 10 per cent of their income on electricity, gas, oil or other fuels.
“It is a massive problem for the South West and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better,” added Mr Hasting. “Initially I simply wanted to look at how Eden as an organisation could use its leverage for the benefit of its staff by negotiating a better deal from a supplier.
“Then the idea ballooned and I asked myself ‘why just Eden?’ and began to think about how other organisations in Cornwall could use their role as employers to promote energy-related matters to their staff and negotiate better deals as a block.”
The result was Cornwall Together, which will work with Community Buying Unlimited, Rural Community Council and Community Energy Plus to act as the sole bulk-buying contact for energy companies to negotiate with, switching suppliers whenever a better deal can be found.
“No energy supplier can ignore tens of thousands of people approaching them as one body,” said Mr Hasting. “And although Cornwall Together can’t guarantee the suppliers are going to offer 10, 15 or even 20 per cent discounts on people’s energy bills, we are giving them an opportunity to offer a solution and by doing so they will also reap the benefits. Not only will their marketing costs be considerably reduced by bulk-selling, but it’s also a PR victory. They will be seen to be addressing customers’ needs – and, let’s face it, energy companies haven’t exactly had the best press in recent years.”
Mr Hastings, who sits on the Department of Energy and Climate Change round table working group, said it is the first time an entire region has united to buy products and services in this way.
“Many people have never switched suppliers – partly because of general inertia and partly because there has never been a trusted intermediary which people felt they could rely on,” he said. “Cornwall Together is aiming to be that trusted intermediary. We can take people who have never switched into the switching market and get them a better deal. The crucial thing is that we are not only trying to set up a sustainable business but creating a fund we can use to spend on social energy projects to do with fuel poverty, the skills gap, health inequality and general well-being.
“Cornwall Together is a people-driven social enterprise organisation that is not just about saving money, but using that saving for the greater good. If managed from Cornwall, it could lead to the creation of a huge number of jobs as the idea is rolled out across the UK.”
Other posts from this source: Western Morning News