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In this guest blog, Louise Van Rensburg, the Head of Non-Domestic Policy at Ofgem, discusses Ofgem’s support for the physical activity sector and the non-domestic market. The blog also explains how the CEO of ukactive, Huw Edwards, was invited to address Ofgem employees about the energy challenges facing the sector at its recent all-staff conference.

We know how difficult the energy market has been for many small and medium businesses recently – including both public and private operators in the leisure sector.

Ofgem’s mandate is to protect the interests of all consumers, including, very importantly, the businesses, industries, and public services who need a good service from their energy suppliers, and a fair, sustainable and effective running of the UK market as a whole.

As Head of Ofgem’s Non-Domestic Retail Policy team, I really want to help Ofgem develop the policies that we need to provide more support to consumers and stability to the market as a whole.

A big part of that is listening to organisations like ukactive and to businesses like yours. That’s why in the last 18 months we have been proactively building up the relationships we need in the non-domestic sector to understand the issues at play and the specific challenges that businesses are facing.

I am very pleased that ukactive have been so active (if you’ll pardon the obvious pun) in reciprocating that engagement. Since early 2023, we have met regularly, and got to know your sector in more detail. That has had a couple of tangible outcomes thus far.

Firstly, last July I visited Manchester alongside Ofgem’s CEO Jonathan Brearley to hear from local businesses. This included a stop at Life Leisure in Stockport, where we heard about the amount of energy it takes to run a leisure centre effectively.

We also heard about the sector’s Sustainable Futures programme. While the cost of energy poses enormous challenges, including to business investment, it is also clear this is already creating new opportunities to rethink our models of energy provision. So it was great to hear how the sector is incorporating decarbonisation right into the heart of its plans for growth.

Secondly, it was my pleasure to welcome Huw Edwards, ukactive CEO, to our Ofgem All-Staff Conference in March this year, where staff from across the UK met to discuss how the regulator responds to major national challenges.

As part of that, Huw – along with representatives of Care England, Federation of Small Businesses and the British Beer and Pub Association, addressed a fully-booked session to discuss issues such as billing transparency, energy supplier customer service, as well as bigger picture issues such as how businesses can help the country get to net zero.

Huw’s points about the challenges on the leisure sector specifically – such as the energy needed to heat and clean a swimming pool – were clear, and really highlighted to the audience the issues many of you are facing every day.

Feedback on the event from my Ofgem colleagues was really positive, with key messages about the scale of the challenges being faced by many SMEs – and what that looks like on the frontline – clearly landing.

As a result, I feel that we better understand the scale and diversity of the current non-domestic energy challenge. I also get that one size doesn’t fit all – and that even within the leisure sector there is a diverse mix of organisations in terms of size, nature, energy needs and public/private status.

Ofgem is clear that we want a market where all energy consumers receive great service, pay fair prices and rely on stable suppliers – and will take action together with government and our partners to make sure this is the case. To that end, in the coming weeks and months, Ofgem will announce further policies, guidance and updates on these issues as we seek to give you the support you need. Throughout that time and for the foreseeable future, we want to continue to hear from our consumers – including all of you in the leisure sector.

If there are issues in the non-domestic market, we want to hear from you and have a robust, open dialogue across the sector to bring these issues to light and address them effectively. Working closely with organisations like ukactive, the industry, government, consumer groups, and charities, we remain focused on delivering a cleaner, cheaper and more secure net zero energy system that works for businesses and households alike.

Disclaimer: Any views or opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of ukactive.