Smart meters: Rollout ramps up but Labour warns of ‘disaster’


There are now 8.6 million smart and advanced meters operating in the UK, according to latest government data. But Labour MP Steve McCabe has warned the programme is heading for “disaster” and believes he has secured a commitment from government to re-evaluate the rollout.

Figures released by the department for business, energy and industrial strategy (Beis) suggest there were 8.61m operational smart and advanced meters in homes and businesses at the end of September, up from around 7.7m the previous quarter. In total, some 9.4m have been installed, but more than 800,000 are operating as dumb meters.

The data suggests some suppliers are accelerating their rollout programme, though they will collectively have to triple the current run rate of 350,000 installs a month should the 2020 deadline be enforced.

Steve McCabe: If smart meter rollout was funded by Treasury “it would have been binned a long time ago”.

However, Labour MP Steve McCabe has urged government to reconsider the rollout in the face of spiralling costs. He believes he has secured a commitment from energy minister Richard Harrington to re-evaluate the programme after raising concerns in the Committee of the Smart Meters Bill.

McCabe suggested the rollout programme lacked transparency and had been mismanaged, leading to cost increases that will be picked up by households and businesses. He pointed to the fact that only 250 smart meters have been installed to date on the central comms hub (the DCC) and tabled a raft of amendments calling for the programme to be reviewed and says Harrington conceded that a re-evaluation is necessary. 

As things stand, the government’s smart meter programme is heading for disaster,” said McCabe.

“Ministers were refusing to review it despite costs escalating by 160% in the last year alone and there appear to be no proper cost controls in place. Although the government has now conceded that a re-evaluation of the programme is required, there are still a number of complex issues the government must iron out if it is to avoid yet further delays.”

McCabe said he was “concerned that this could end up being yet another IT fiasco” that piles costs onto consumers. 

“If this was being funded with Treasury money, the project would have been binned a long time ago,” he suggested.

During the sixth sitting of the Smart Meters Bill on Tuesday (28 November), McCabe and fellow Labour MP, Alan Whitehead, both pushed for commitments from government to safeguard consumers from spiralling costs.

The energy minister committed to including an annual smart meter rollout report, to be laid before both houses (source via Hansard, p.110-111 and p.167-168)

The Smart Meters Bill extends the powers of the Secretary of State to develop, amend and oversee regulation relating to the smart meter rollout and will be considered again at Third Reading in the coming weeks.

See the latest smart meters install figures here.

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