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The Hoggett Bowers 2 Minute Interview: Neil McDermott

Neil McDermott low carbon contracts company
CEO, Low Carbon Contracts Company

What challenge did you tackle and overcome in your business this week?

We ran our Annual Board Strategy Day last week. And of course, we did it virtually using a mixture of Teams and Zoom. It has been really interesting to see the adjustment in how we all work and how we can still manage to successfully deliver an all-day meeting with presentations and break-out sessions. You might recoil at the thought of being in an all-day meeting ‘on screen’ but actually time flies when you are enjoying yourself!

Which ongoing business challenge is occupying your thoughts this week/month?

Low Carbon Contracts Company (LCCC) was established as a counterparty to deliver the government’s Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme, which has played a major role in attracting and maintaining investment to transform the country’s electricity system since 2013. It is a tremendously exciting time in the sector with the UK’s commitment to Net Zero carbon by 2050.

Our work currently is focused on preparing for the next phase of the scheme – Allocation Round 4 – later this year, which will support the next wave of renewable electricity generation projects. This is a key feature in the government’s 10 point plan to build back greener and support sustainable, reliable, affordable electricity for future generations. We are also working on new schemes, such as the development of Carbon Capture Usage and Storage, which will support the decarbonisation of fossil fuels in electricity generation and industrial uses this decade, another very exciting challenge.

We have had 2 national lockdowns and a range of regional tier variations over many months. In what way has your approach to these lockdowns / tier restrictions permanently influenced your own way of working and will you make any adjustments now we are in a 3rd lockdown?

The move to remote working has, in many respects, made it easier to find the time and opportunity to engage with employees, customers and stakeholders. So, I find that I spend more time engaging with people which is an interesting outcome. We have had to think hard about how we support employees through some challenging times. We have taken a supportive and flexible approach, using a number of initiatives including placing periodic check in calls to employees to assess wellbeing.

Of course, the third lockdown started in January with the short days and poor weather, so getting outside at some point in the day is important. I certainly do have more time as I am not commuting 3.5 hours a day to London and back.

Given the reliance on technology during lockdowns, do you now envisage an acceleration in digital/workforce transformation in the short-medium term?

I am sure many of us are now far more skilled in the use of IT systems linked to remote working. I never imagined I would have so many ways of messaging colleagues – Outlook, Teams, etc. And remote working will be a permanent feature of our company going forward.

We are preparing to move office this summer which seems a world away in the current environment. Our new offices will have far fewer desks than people and we are moving to a flexible working arrangement with only two days per week in London. The challenge will be to retain the new culture, skills and improved ways of working that we have all developed over the last 12 months once we move to the mixed office and remote working in future. And of course, I expect that our IT systems will be central to making this work.

What are the new working norms starting to look like for your organisation?

Using online platforms has been an important way for us to keep connected. We’ve always held regular all-staff meetings, but now we host them on Teams and use Slido to get employees’ live feedback as they are happening. We also make a point of celebrating big and small wins, so there are opportunities to show appreciation and recognise jobs well done. Interestingly, we generate more employee interaction in these sessions than before. And people work more flexible hours where the focus is on delivering our role really well for our stakeholders whilst balancing the needs of employees in the face of the obvious pressures that face us all.

We’ve built in time to catch up more informally – we developed an app which randomly matches employees for a coffee on a Friday, an opportunity to talk about something other than work. Perhaps this is an innovation that may not have happened without the move to remote working. And our online engagement with stakeholders has meant we can continue to pursue the key project milestones that have helped renewable generation projects to start operations on time during the past year.

There is a dramatic reduction in carbon footprints during lockdowns, what is your business planning to do to help continue this going forward?

Reducing the country’s carbon footprint is central to the work LCCC does. Decarbonising energy is a crucial part of the transition to Net Zero emissions by 2050. The CfD scheme has played a huge role in attracting the investment needed to decarbonise the UK’s energy sector. We currently work with 73 sites across the UK to deliver a pipeline of 19GW of new low-carbon energy. Since we started, we’ve supported 33 of these projects to come online, delivering sustainable, affordable electricity.

That aside, over the last 12 months and with our employees working from home, our IT environment has undergone a major change which has both reduced its overall environmental impact and positioned it to work more efficiently in the future. In preparation for our move to our new offices in the summer, we are reducing our office space and also rationalising our workstations. We will be travelling less with our commitment to two days a week in London and we are embracing the ‘paperless office’ model to reduce printing and its associated the impacts on the environment.

In terms of personal well-being, what changes have you made and will you stick to them post lockdown?

In terms of personal wellbeing, I find exercise is invaluable in feeling alert and energised. We recently took up the 2.6 Challenge at LCCC. This was a campaign by charities to help sustain fundraising during the pandemic, where people could do any challenge involving a multiple of 2 and 6. We encouraged employees to take up the challenge, raising money for our nominated charity, Renewable World.

I decided to cycle at least 26km every day for 26 days. There’s nothing like a public commitment to fundraising to ensure one completes a challenge come rain or shine and in the end I rode over 750km in 26 days, the equivalent of cycling from my home in Kent to Edinburgh!

Who or what has inspired you this week? (They don’t need to be famous)

Interesting question. We have very poor broadband at home, being a rural property. My son has been motivated to find out about the Community Fibre Partnerships Scheme that rural communities can use to apply for fibre to be laid to their homes. He has signed up 38 local houses, galvanising the local community and has now submitted the application to Openreach. Who knows if he will be successful, but we know a lot more neighbours now and it was quite inspiring to reflect on what can be achieved when you are so motivated for change!

How did you spend Christmas?

At home! We spent Christmas as a family, actually the first time ever that we have not spent the time with wider family. Lots of food, presents, dog walking and of course, a few drinks along the way. We even learnt to play poker. Of course, there were the inevitable Zoom calls with extended family and friends which was fun.

Any words of wisdom?

Focus on your people, listen, be supportive, flexible and trusting – doing so has enabled LCCC to develop despite the challenges and indeed we have delivered some major achievements in the last 12 months.