Industry: water, steel & energy

Gronow, Colin (9 of 9). An Oral History of the Electricity Supply in the UK

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  • Recording date

    2014-10-22, 2014-10-18, 2014-12-16, 2015-01-36

  • Interviewees

    Gronow, Colin, 1929- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 9: Remarks on senior colleagues at Electricity Council: Ray Orson, Central Member for finance and commercial matters; Duncan McGruther in charge of secretarial matters; chairman Francis Tombs followed by former civil servant Philip Jones, earlier connected with Concorde; Alan Plumpton, deputy chairman, until resigning after being passed over for chairmanship by Philip Jones; David Jefferies' [deputy] chairman; intimidating one-legged deputy chairman Austin Bunch; anecdote about Bunch bullying Orson; [04:45] anecdote about Bunch intimidating CG after CG objected to Bunch being rude to Glyn England; mentions Francis Tombs finding Bunch good value; anecdote about Tombs kicking Austin in artificial leg; anecdote about Austin Bunch being promoted to Chairman by Nigel Lawson for only one year; anecdote about Bunch's knighthood; [08:10] Philip Jones a typical civil servant with limited understanding of ESI; CG finding David Jefferies firm but easy to work for. [09:40] Story about CG thwarted 'Budget Warmth' scheme for supplying elderly with unmetered storage heaters: political concern about elderly cold in winter; CG solution of unmetered flat tariff storage heater remote controlled by area control according to need and paid for over whole year; CG seeing use of radio signals to control heaters in Switzerland; half Area Board chairman alarmed at idea of unmetered supplies, David Jefferies unduly objecting to scheme due to concerns it would add to ongoing meter tampering problem; anecdote about Jefferies concern over extent of engineering knowledge. [15:15] Remarks on: CG lacking engineering background but respecting the limits of his understanding and getting on well with engineers, mentions earlier experience in Scotland. [17:25] Comments on CG responsibilities as Central Member for Engineering, Marketing and Research: limited knowledge of engineering, but wide experience of marketing and research; subordinate managers, Engineering Adviser Frank Davenport, marketing adviser Jack Taylor, and Commercial Adverser Terry Boley; Trevor Churchman in charge of research, Matt Cowan joint manager of Capenhurst research centre, long friendship with CG; anecdote about CG visiting all 12 Area Boards when he started the job, Area Boards' disinterest in Electricity Council help; [21:30] anecdote about Frank Davenport concern over future of distribution system leading to impossibly enormous meeting of Area Board chief engineers, CG solution of pairing Boards up to investigate issues; Area Boards all independent entities with their own responsibilities; CG becoming Central Member on recommendation of Francis Tombs, CG feelings about post, 5 year contract but retiring a year early; clarification of date Francis Tombs was chairman, dates of CG appointments at Electricity Council [marketing Adviser 1978, Commercial Adviser 1980, Central Member 1985-90]. [27:50] Remarks on industry research: CG chairing industry research committee including CEGB's Derek Davis and Area Board chairmen; anecdote about difficulty judging CEGB research programme; difficulty justifying expense of Capenhurst leading to comparative exercise with other industries, anecdote about CG speech to EDF in Paris; Trevor Churchman's research into heated greenhouses and other areas aimed at applications; Area Boards concerns over costs of Capenhurst, difficulty for CG to judge economics of Capenhurst; [33:35] CG visit to American equivalent of Capenhurst; estimate of size of Capenhurst. [35:10] [cont' from 35:10] Remarks on meetings of the Electricity Council: composition of Council meetings with representatives from around industry; Gil Blackman, Fred Bonner, Walter Marshall and John Baker amongst CEGB representatives; Walter Marshall and Philip Jones history of antipathy; anecdote about Marshall leaning meetings to go to Ascot races; CG friendly with Walter Marshall wife; outline of typical meeting; outer friendliness of meetings disguising Area Board dislike of Council; Area Board Chairmen delighted at privatisation freeing them Council, Chairmen declaring Council 'dead in the water'. [39:35] Remarks on privatisation: Philip Jones advocating split of transmission system from privatised CEGB, to chagrin of CEGB; split of CEGB at privatisation and entry of foreign companies into British ESI, EDF success in nuclear power; competitive profit oriented nature of current ESI. [41:30] Short story about CG turning down leadership of Office of Electricity Regulation [OFFER]: Francis Tombs offering to recommend CG for role; CG in process of retirement and move to Dorset; CG offer to do job part time unacceptable to Margaret Thatcher; anecdote about CG considering doing job if it came with a knighthood; anecdote about Francis Tombs and Margaret Thatcher. [44:00] Comments on privatisation: CG not thinking it was a bad idea; CG view that CEGB was inefficient, more generation than needed, poor record in completing nuclear stations; advantages of rationalising Area Boards, which were already more efficient than CEGB; difference in attitude between CEGB and Area Boards, CEGB detached from customers compared to Area Boards; Electricity Council more efficient due to pressure from Area Boards, Area Boards week compared to CEGB; CG hoping privatisation would lower costs; [48:25] Electricity Council shattered by privatisation, staff looking for jobs around Area Boards; staff with skills outside electricity joining other companies, CG secretary becoming secretary to Derek Davis and Walter Marshall; importance of good secretary to CG work at SSEB and Council; [52:35] many staff finding jobs outside ESI; work at Council stopping after privatisation announcement, CG taking a holiday, anecdote about Philip Jones reading newspaper in his office; Roger Farrance hard work setting up Electricity Association, including Frank Davenport and Richard Savinson; Jack Taylor retiring; Terry Boley move to SEEB; anecdote about CG applying for job as NEEB chairman; set up of industry regulator with privatisation, CG decision to retire. [57:25] Remarks on retirement in 1990: CG taking 3 months holiday in Portugal before retiring, ringing secretary every Monday morning to see if anything needed doing; staff finding jobs for themselves; CG enjoying job, not staying on long enough to be awarded CBE; CG paid £65,000 salary for year contract cut short; CG and wife travelling world in retirement, such as America, Alaska and New Zealand; CG visits to Ryder Cup tournaments; time share in Tenerife, swapped with American couples for holidays in the USA, CG selling time share to avoid complications as he got older; [1:03:25] CG not doing any consultancy work in retirement, condition that he was available as consultant for Capenhurst after retirement. [1:04:10] [cont' from 1:04:10] Remarks on industry since retirement and climate change: limits of CG knowledge; politicians causing problems for ESI; false worries over global warming and carbon dioxide from power stations having detrimental effect on industry, waste of large subsidies paid to ineffective wind industry; European Union rules against coal fired power stations; France insulated from issues due to large nuclear industry, German abandonment of nuclear power leading to need to burn coal instead; large number of American, Indian and Chinese coal burning power station limiting effectiveness of cut in British carbon dioxide emissions; [Christopher] Booker 'Sunday Telegraph' column and book debunking global warming; [1:09:00] energy industry not as good as previously, misuse of gas as power station fuel; CG unsure of future of industry, current situation a mess due to government mistakes; CG suspecting that privatisation has made little difference to efficiency of ESI, but limited knowledge of current ESI; satisfactions of CG career, significance of Space Heater working party, cut to peak load, increased significance of marketing; possible change to service industry in future, in spite of price rises. [1:13:20] Remarks on interview process, importance of ESI.

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