Posted: 12 September 2013
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Fringe benefits

Paul Thompson, Head of Parliamentary Affairs, on why National Grid must be part of the debate at party political conferences.

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Fringe benefits

Fringe benefits

It is important that National Grid engages with political parties. Pictured is the company stand at the 2012 conference for the Department of the Environment and Climate Change (DECC).

“We’re expecting a stimulating and sometimes heated debate. However, we’re positive that the audiences will give us an opportunity to share our thinking.”

Paul Thompson, Head of Parliamentary Affairs

Insight: attracted 77.9 million unique browsers and monthly page impressions of more than 474 million views in January 2013.

Source: MediaWeek

It’s party conference season, and a series of fringe events being run by National Grid in conjunction with the Guardian newspaper is set to put the energy debate on centre stage for each of the main political parties. In the run up to the events, Paul Thompson, Head of Parliamentary Affairs, explains why it is important for National Grid to join the debate at party conferences.


As a leading international energy company, engaging with politicians is one of the important activities that National Grid does on a daily basis.

We are in regular talks with politicians such as Liberal Democrat energy secretary, Ed Davey; his Conservative ministerial colleague, Michael Fallon; and Labour energy shadow minister, Baroness Worthington, discussing the political ‘hot topics’ around the future security of the UK’s energy networks.

Paul Thompson, National Grid’s Head of Parliamentary Affairs

Paul Thompson, National Grid’s Head of Parliamentary Affairs

However, the annual conferences held by each of the three main political parties present us with a great opportunity to engage with a broader political and public audience, so we can tell people what National Grid is doing – specifically in terms of energy security – how it affects us all and hopefully dispel some myths.

Through our previous activities with the Crown Estate, we were invited to participate in one of the Guardian’s Big Ideas fringe events, which focus on important challenges facing society and invite debate from politicians, industry leaders and other relevant figures.

Having a platform at these conferences gives us a number of benefits. Janine Freeman, Head of UK and EU Public Affairs will share a panel with politicians to explain the National Grid story.

Party members don’t usually dictate policy directly anymore (except in the case of the Lib Dems) but their views do influence politicians strongly. If National Grid can present them with credible arguments, we can have a greater bearing on what they say to those politicians.

Participating in party conferences also puts us in a better position to understand party sentiments and this insight can help shape the way we communicate our message to politicians in coming months.

Our event, ‘Pylons, bills and keeping the lights on’, will be a 90-minute panel debate held at each of the main party conferences. The events will be chaired by Damian Carrington, the Guardian’s Head of Environment, who is known for his independent thinking, so we’re expecting a challenging and lively discussion.

More details about the events and who will be appearing at each event can be viewed here.

The events will encourage a wide-ranging debate, but I am sure we will cover the following topics in some depth:

How will we keep the lights on mid-decade?
What will be the impact of new infrastructure on consumer bills?
Where will we build the pylons and infrastructure that we need for the future?

Other topics will no doubt emerge. For example, although we’re not a generation company, I’m sure we will be asked about the extraction of shale gas. I also think the subject of Scottish Independence and its impact on the UK’s energy infrastructure will be mentioned, particularly as the Lib Dem conference takes place in Glasgow. We may even get some questions about cyber-attacks following this week’s Channel 4 broadcast ‘Blackout.’

In partnership with the Guardian

We are pleased and excited to be running the events in conjunction with the Guardian, which has the second-largest online audience of any UK newspaper, and is generally seen as one of the top digital outlets for political news.

The Guardian will be supporting the fringe events with a host of online activities, starting with articles that raise awareness in advance. It will invite its online audience to submit questions, some of which will be posed to the panelists during the meetings. And a Guardian representative will be on hand at all the events to manage a live Twitter feed, which will provide a real-time commentary. This will enable us to share our message with large numbers of people across the internet.

After the event, the newspaper will circulate a closing report, covering the conversations that have taken place. This will also be available online.

We’re expecting a stimulating and sometimes heated debate. However, we’re positive that the audiences will give us an opportunity to share our thinking.

National Grid is often confused with the big energy suppliers. Explaining our role in addressing energy challenges, how tightly we are regulated and our commitment to public acceptability will help people to understand where we are coming from.

In turn, we will have the opportunity to listen to the audiences’ concerns, which will help inform our strategy and activities as we look to build the infrastructure to meet the UK’s future energy needs.

Event schedule

Liberal Democrat conference, Glasgow: Tuesday, 17 September (commencing 5.30pm)
Labour conference, Brighton: Tuesday, 24 September (7.30pm)
Conservative conference, Manchester: Monday, 30 September (5.30pm)

To find out more

Click here for more details about the event and the speakers.

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