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Smart meter roll-out must be judged by long-term benefits insists energy minister

The government’s £11 billion roll-out of smart meters must be judged by the long-term benefits it offers consumers, energy minister Jesse Norman has insisted.

The programme, which has been dogged by a number of high profile setbacks and disparaging comments from energy suppliers, was the subject of a number of questions during this morning’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy oral and topical questions session in the House of Commons.

“I find the minister was a touch complacent with his earlier answer on smart meters. Given this is going to cost the taxpayer £11 billion by the end of this parliament, what’s he going to do about the fact they don’t work when a customer switches supplier?” Labour MP Steve McCabe asked.

McCabe was responding to a report in The Times (£) yesterday which claimed that a fifth of households stood to be fitted with smart meters that may not work as expected should the consumer switch supplier due to a delay in the rollout of ‘Smets2’ software, which enables meters to communicate.

However Norman insisted that the controversial and behind-schedule rollout of smart meters must be judged by the benefits it would offer consumers over the long term.

“Of course the smart meter programme is to be judged by its long term effects as well, it will save £46 billion by the end of that decade,” he said.

Earlier in the session Labour MP Albert Owen had also questioned Norman on the smart meter roll-out, referencing how suppliers including SSE had cited the smart meter roll-out to be behind increases in energy bills.

“The country needs 21st century systems like smart metering. Can the minister update the house on the progress of the rollout, and can he have a word with energy companies to stop them blaming this government for smart metering being a part of the hike in energy prices?”

Norman once again defended the roll-out and offered a rebuke to those suppliers blaming tariff increases on the programme.

“We are in no doubt at all about the need for energy companies to bear down on energy prices and, as they will be aware, the cost of policy is a relatively small part of those prices,” he said.

The programme, which intends to see all domestic and commercial properties in the UK fitted with a smart meter by 2020, has been the subject of various negative headlines in recent weeks.

SSE had to publicly reassure customers earlier this month after a routine software upgrade caused some meters to malfunction, displaying daily bills up to tens of thousands of pounds for some customers.