Community benefit or bribe? You just can’t win with fracking.

January 13, 2014

The UK Government’s policy statement on shale gas fracking in England has unleashed a Twitter-frenzy of ‘bribery’ allegations.

The offer of allowing councils to keep more council tax revenue from fracking has outraged a lot of people.

The general theme of Tweets is that the Government is tempting hard pressed councils with cash they desperately need. This is, apparently, very wrong.

We’ve seen this all before – in microcosm. It happens all the time when developers negotiate with local authorities, and sometimes communities, to navigate their projects through the planning process. Very roughly, the expectation is that schemes that result in any loss of amenity, or cause any inconvenience to the public, should deliver some kind of benefit as compensation.

And here’s the golden rule that applies with the public: If they support the project then what’s promised is very appropriately ‘sharing the benefits with the community’. If they dislike it, then it’s ‘a bribe.’

So, irrespective of the merits or hazards of fracking, you really can’t win with this one. If a developer offers nothing the response is often: ‘why should we put up with this when there’s nothing in it for us?’ Alternatively, it’s ‘how dare you try to buy us off with your tainted cash.’

Projects will be judged on their individual planning merits. If fracking gets the go-ahead then communities will likely get a lot of financial return, even if people resent every single penny that’s forced on them.

Wynford Emanuel

Director

The bright spark who lost our energy contract

January 2, 2014

We’ve just had an interesting experience with an energy supplier – but not a good one. It was a master class in how to alienate your customers.

Our business energy contracts expire soon and our supplier (one of the Big 6) sent us the renewal documents. We didn’t immediately know whether or not the quoted prices were good value.

We received a follow up call from one of the company’s salespeople. I didn’t know him, but he spoke to me like an old mate: using my first name dozens of times. Yes, we had received the quotation: so what did we think? It was a terrific bargain, apparently, especially if we signed up for three years. I asked a few questions.

 “Hang on Wynford, I’m going to see what we can do for you. Let me speak to my manager.” Silence for a minute or so, while he allegedly pleaded our case. “Right, we will hold those prices for you – but only until 4 o’clock today. Here’s my direct line…I can’t promise anything after that.”

I know deals are struck on a daily basis, but this was just like he’d been reading a book entitled ‘Bad clichés of selling snake oil.’ Instinctively, I distrusted him.

We did the obvious thing and contacted a business energy consultancy we know well. We showed them the contract documents. Their response was, “If you sign this you’ll be paying 25% more than current costs. Here are some better deals…” So we chose to sign much cheaper contracts with two other suppliers.

Our sales person called back after a few days. He was very angry that we’d gone elsewhere, ‘while we were in negotiation.’ He was very flippant and dismissive to the colleague he spoke to. “I only hope you know what you’re doing…”

There are two morals from this, both pretty obvious I admit: one is speak to independent experts when you need advice. Secondly, being rude to existing or potential customers likely means that you’ve lost them – perhaps for ever. How strange that we had this experience with one of the UK’s largest blue chip companies.

Wynford Emanuel

Director

Let’s protest about … everything!

August 9, 2013

What an interesting week it’s been in the fracking furore.

Anti-frackers from my locality have been travelling to south east England.to protest and have their photos taken as they are carted away by the police. At the same time there’s a call in Wales to stop building wind farms immediately – as fracking will provide the energy we need in preferable manner.

So we have protesters shouting about fracking, others opposing wind – and of course there are those who hate nuclear, energy from waste and all fossil fuels.

It’s the people who shout the loudest who get most publicity and nearly always claim to represent whole communities. Usually, they don’t.

Take the anti-frackers as an example. They claimed to represent the unanimous view of a community. But then, in feature piece, a Times reporter knocked on quite a few doors to ask local people their views, and it was all quite different.

The responses were mainly about wanting to know the benefits to the locality and the possibility of cheaper gas or jobs. Some people, all quoted by name, were very enthusiastic – ‘as long as it’s done properly.’

But these aren’t the shouters – many of whom travelled far and wide. They are the people who tend to keep their views to themselves – and so they don’t often get noticed by the media. The result is a distorted reflection of public opinion. Despite the fact that projects should be decided on their individual merits, a small number of activists can thwart what’s good for society. They just make it too much trouble to do.

But we need new energy sources, we need new generation facilities, and some people are going to be annoyed. They’ll shout blue murder. That’s unfortunate, but it’s unavoidable. For society’s sake we can’t let policy be dictated by those who shout the loudest.

Wynford Emanuel

My week of work experience – Jade Mitchell

July 12, 2013

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I started work experience at Warwick Emanuel and straight away, I felt welcome. Elizabeth Warwick was friendly and helpful so I felt calm working with them.

They gave me tasks to do and kept me busy making the tea! Reece Emmitt asked me to write up the 3 top stories in the UK and Wales. I don’t normally watch the news so I found it all very new and interesting. Elizabeth and Reece said that my entry was what they were looking for, so I was pleased with that.

I sat in on an important meeting in Swansea and learnt more about what PR involves. When we arrived at the offices, I helped Reece with organising and packing letters as part of a community consultation programme for a nationally significant infrastructure project. Each day I wrote a digest on the top 3 stories in Wales and the UK.

Wynford approached me asking for a ‘young’ persons view on how to raise awareness for an event. I was told to write a 2 page report on how to attract young people aged 16 – 30 to an event and prior to it, using social media such as Twitter and Facebook. I found that really interesting as I didn’t know that there would be so much work and planning involved. I sent the report to Elizabeth who said that my ideas were good, and that I had thought of something that they hadn’t.

Later in the week, I sat in on another meeting about setting up a creative PR programme to promote gas safety. I have learnt a lot about PR and have found the experience fun. Elizabeth and the team were very friendly and helpful! 

Celebrities – why some of you get a bad press

May 28, 2013

What’s the least likeable trait of some ‘celebrities’? Well, there are plenty of options to choose from but I’d put self-importance somewhere near the top.

You know the sort of thing: visiting ‘star’ expects Bollinger ’73, room painted cream, heated to 23.4C, and adorned with Birds of Paradise flowers.

Worse, the ‘star’ deigns to do an interview with common media folk, but first we must go through the ritual of PR people prepping the reporters. They’ll get a set time and under no circumstances should they ask about certain topics.

Take for example French director Valeria Bruni Tedeschi at the Cannes Film Festival. A press conference was held to publicise her film. Reporters were warned that they mustn’t ask her about being the only female director in the competition. Nothing about her private life could be asked either, although the film was about her family.

So she gave what was, it’s said, a charmless and ‘huffy’ interview. Then The Times critic asked about the boyfriend, who played himself in the film. “Stronza!” she shouted (it’s Italian for ‘shit’, apparently – or s**t as The Times pointlessly censored it) and stormed out.

So there you have it: another seemingly irritable person who gives the impression of hating dealing with the hoi polloi. Boo! Why can’t people just deal with such situations?

How about not telling journalists what they can and can’t ask and just getting on with it? And if you get a question on something you don’t want to deal with, good naturedly say: “Sorry – I don’t want to go into that, what else can we talk about?” And if you’re asked again, give a similar answer.

It’s not hard and makes it less likely you’ll get a bad write-up. And by being humble and friendly we may even like you a bit more.

But as a PR person, would I be doing myself out of a job?

Wyn Emanuel

Two companies: and a contrast in customer service

May 20, 2013

I’ve just had two private consultations for health purposes – and seen a stark contrast in customer service and how companies present themselves.

I saw an advert for company A and ‘phoned to book an appointment. Easy. I turned up and was immediately assessed with the aid of what seemed to me to be ultra modern equipment. My results were explained to me, I was given a print out to take away, and told about my options.

Then I saw an advert for company B in a newspaper, and wanted to compare results and costs. This company expected me to fill in a form, cut it out of the newspaper and post it. I didn’t want to do that, and as there was no email address I ‘phoned the advertised number. It rang and rang and after about six tries someone answered. An appointment was made.

Later, I wanted to confirm the location. No answer again on the published number, so I looked up the company on its website. The number on it was not in use and no-one answered the Head office ‘customer service’ number.

For some reason I persisted: I turned to Google Earth and found the location. I turned up and waited a few minutes. The person I’d come to see said sorry about the wait as he was sorting out a few drinks with his mates that evening. The consultation seemed lower tech and the place was a bit old fashioned and slightly ramshackle.

The company B man filled out a chart with my results, but didn’t give it to me. He seemed knowledgeable enough, and the costs were comparable to my earlier consultation.

Guess which company I’m thinking of handing over a few thousand pounds to? It’s the one in which I’ve more confidence.

Wynford Emanuel

Two companies: and what a contrast in customer service!

May 20, 2013

I’ve just had two private consultations for health purposes – and seen a stark contrast in customer service and how companies present themselves.

I saw an advert for company A and ‘phoned to book an appointment. Easy. I turned up and was immediately assessed with the aid of what seemed to me to be ultra modern equipment. My results were explained to me, I was given a print out to take away, and told about my options.

Then I saw an advert for company B in a newspaper, and wanted to compare results and costs. This company expected me to fill in a form, cut it out of the newspaper, find an envelope and a stamp and find a post box. I didn’t want to do that, and as there was no email address I ‘phoned the advertised number. It rang and rang and after about six tries someone answered. An appointment was made.

Later, I wanted to confirm the location. No answer again on the published number, so I looked up the company on its website. The number on it was not in use and no-one answered the Head office ‘customer service’ number.

For some reason I persisted: I turned to Google Earth and found the location. I turned up and waited a few minutes. The person I’d come to see said sorry about the wait as he was sorting out a few drinks with his mates that evening. The consultation seemed lower tech and the place was a bit old fashioned and slightly ramshackle.

The company B man filled out a chart with my results, but didn’t give it to me. He seemed knowledgeable enough, and the costs were comparable to my earlier consultation.

Guess which company I’m thinking of handing over a few thousand pounds to? It’s the one in which I’ve more confidence.

Time to curb free bus travel?

April 22, 2013

I caught a bus the other day and couldn’t help noticing that no-one paid the fare.

Everyone on it had grey hair, including me. That meant we over 60s had free bus passes, and it got me thinking about the fairness of this system.

Plenty of 60 plus people are still working: some through choice and others who need to carry on to 65 or beyond to get the level of income they want or need. There’s no doubt that this universal benefit is hugely popular.

Most over 60s have done the big things in life. They’ll likely have grown up children and probably small or non-existent mortgages. If renting, the chances are that the cost is less of a burden than it may be for much younger people with families. Some will have progressed in their careers to have good incomes. This is of course a generalisation – as it must be. Others will be unemployed and not doing very well at all. But it is undoubtedly a fact that some very well off people are being subsidised by people with less in their pockets.

On another occasion when I caught a bus a young man in front of me in the queue, maybe in his late teens, had to pay the full fare. I didn’t pay anything. I’m guessing he didn’t have a highly paid job, so he was subsidising people like me – and I must assume that after decades in the workforce I’m a lot better off than him. This seemed unjust.

There is, after all, no such thing as free bus travel. Someone has to pay to cover the cost of my journeys, and it’s people like this young man through the taxation system – which in the end compensates the bus companies. I suppose I could volunteer to pay my fare, and that gesture may be noble – but insignificant. So what, if anything, is to be done to save public money and, perhaps, keep down this £1bn plus cost to taxpayers?

What has no price is often seen to have no value, so it’s sometimes taken for granted. I suspect that many bus trips are made with no purpose. They happen because it costs nothing.

Scrapping free bus travel is the equivalent of an election poster saying: ‘I hate the old. Vote for the other lot.’ So that won’t happen. Means testing is out of the question as the bureaucracy involved could even increase the cost. But there are some options:

What about a concessionary charge? What if the over 60s were to be offered a local bus journey at, say, 50p? That’s less than a third of the local fare in Cardiff. It’s not much, but just enough to make you think whether the journey is necessary.

And why not make eligibility reflect pension ages? After all, 65 is the retirement age for men. Yes, it would be unfair to men right now – but not for long.

What about restricting free travel times? Concessionary fares could be outside peak travel times of 7-9am and 4-6pm. If you’re still working and need to travel in these times then pay the full fare.

Some people will hate any chipping away at this perk. Any suggestion of eroding it makes some people very angry indeed. A change in the rules would cost me, but it could reduce bus travel costs overall and save taxpayers’ money. That would benefit the people who most need it – like the young lad in my queue the other day.

Wynford Emanuel

To frack or not to frack? That will be the question.

April 4, 2013

Fracking: it’s an ugly word for what some people see as a big threat to their environment.

But many others view it as a golden opportunity to tackle our looming energy crisis by reducing our uncomfortable dependence on imported energy.

Most of us have seen the media reports of protests and ‘mini-earthquake’ stories as shale rocks or coal seams deep underground are hydraulically fractured by high pressure fluid to extract gas. We’ll see it all again the next time a proposal crops up. As a nation we need the gas because we have very little storage capacity for cold snaps such as over the past few weeks, but a lot of people are dead set against this technology. So what are we going to do?

Fracking has become big business in north America, in terms of unleashing vast quantities of energy that has reduced gas prices and dependence on imports. Fortunately for the Americans and Canadians, the wide open spaces on their continent mean that they can frack far away from most communities – reducing the volume of opposition (although there’s still plenty of it). They’re even making a Hollywood film about fracking, but if it’s anything like Argo, it’ll be more about entertainment than facts.

The conflicting views of US communities can be seen in this four minute film by the BBC’s Laura Trevelyan http://tinyurl.com/clcrwrk

On our crowded little island the seams to be gasified will always be near to someone – albeit a mile or more underground. Some small earth tremors may result, as they do naturally from time to time. Here in Wales we have already seen opposition and will see it again. People are naturally concerned if they think their local environment and homes may be damaged. Who wouldn’t be?

And while the process of extracting the gas and using it to produce electricity is environmentally cleaner than burning coal, there are lots of other claims and counter claims about its risks that won’t be resolved any time soon.

So, while each application should technically be determined on its planning merits we can’t shy away from the fact that we’ve a tough policy decision to make towards the technology. The UK Government’s moratorium on fracking is over. So, from now on, do local and possible environmental interests come first, or are the needs of the wider economy and energy security more important?

The next time a fracking proposal appears there’ll be media stories and likely opposition by communities, environmental organisations and some politicians. Their views may prevail (subject to compliance or otherwise with planning rules) and they’ll be happy, while the bounty under our feet is sterilised.

The views of local people and environmental and economic experts must and will be heard under our planning regimes. But which principle should we follow? Do we ensure that local people are undisturbed and there is nil potential risk to the environment, or should we allow a tightly regulated industry to exploit a resource that could benefit the whole economy? Compromise isn’t an option; it’s one or the other.

When it comes to the crunch, as it could in the near future, the outcome may dismay some local communities. The balance may shift in favour of the people with the drilling rigs.

Wynford Emanuel

Director

What would Wales do with increased planning powers?

March 7, 2013

A call has been made for the Welsh Government to have a greater say on energy planning issues. Welsh Conservatives want devolved decision making to increase from 50MW to 100MW projects.

But what would this achieve? Would it help to speed up a Welsh planning system that has been described as ‘glacial’ in its speed? And, more importantly, would it mean that Wales is more likely to give the green light to a greater number of large-scale energy proposals?

Determination by the UK Government of these larger energy schemes annoys many people in Wales. They want what they see as a more democratic system with decisions made here.

The Scots already take their own decisions and they seem be using energy development as an engine of growth. Large schemes, particularly for renewable energy, tend to be looked on favourably.

Would that happen in Wales? The fact is that many people want decisions to be taken here not only for accountability, but also the motivation is sometimes that projects can be stopped. Even where smaller schemes can be determined in Cardiff Bay we hear calls for them to be ‘called in’ to the Welsh Government – in the hope they’ll be turned down.

Leading UK business people say that our planning regimes make Wales a less attractive place to invest than elsewhere in the UK.

People often oppose any developments near their own homes. That’s only natural. I’d be upset if there were to be something built near me that I didn’t like. But local self-interest and the interests of Wales as a whole won’t always coincide. Unfortunately, economic development will mean that, from time to time, groups of people will be annoyed –  as will the AMs and MPs who support them. It’s unfortunate, but Wales must come first.

So what would happen if we get these increased powers in Wales? Would we harness them for economic growth, or use them to thwart projects some people don’t like? If the latter, that would make investing in Wales even less attractive than it is today.


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