An interview with Ken Cronin, CEO UKIFDA

The winter 2020 edition of downstream, the magazine of industry body UKIFDA which is now integrated with Fuel Oil News, carried an interview with the incoming UKIFDA CEO, Ken Cronin, about his thoughts and aspirations for his time ahead. This month Ken celebrates his second-year anniversary and, as he heads into his third year, we ask him to describe his experiences to date and his ambitions for the future.

Ambitions for the future from Ken Cronin, CEO UKIFDA

Is it what you expected of the CEO role?

I have to say I was very well briefed before I started the role. The number one challenge was to move the narrative surrounding finding a solution to decarbonisation that will provide a choice to our customers. I believe we have successfully made gains over the first two years, and the Future Ready Fuel campaign is now delivering positive returns.

Having run a trade association and worked in the energy sector previously, I have been able to approach challenges with experience and plan for the obstacles and the future.

The mix of challenges, some known and some unknown, such as the red diesel changes, shortage of supply, invasion of Ukraine, cost of living and the political upheaval in the UK, plus the cancellation of two EXPOs due to the pandemic, all provided an interesting backdrop to my introduction to the industry.

It has also been interesting to experience the different reactions to the same policy issues in the various parts of the UK where some policy is devolved and, of course, Ireland which remains part of the EU.

All in all, I was, and still am, very pleased with the reception I received from UKIFDA members and their willingness to help.

What has impressed you the most?

Firstly, my team. It is not easy transitioning from one CEO to the next, especially when decisions need to be made quickly and you have never met the guy on the other side of the screen. The team is brilliant, both in the UK and Ireland. I have also been really pleased with the industry’s reaction to my requests for data when needed and the members’ support of the Future Ready Fuel campaign – the engagement level has been very heartening.

What have been the highlights so far?

There are quite a few. The main highlight has to be the industry coming together to refinance UKIFDA, which created a lump in my throat. I was delighted at the success of the virtual EXPO – like most things during the pandemic, it hadn’t been tried before. Nothing can beat face-to-face interaction, so I was very glad that, in 2022, we were able to take the EXPO back to Liverpool.

I stood in the middle of the Liverpool Exhibition Centre at the start of EXPO week, and I must admit I was nervous about how we would fill such a large space, but we did, and, as you know, the feedback from this event has been exceptionally positive. The introduction of the two new awards at the 2022 EXPO was a highlight that means a lot to me. The Innovation and Young Person awards are key to moving the industry forward.

The other big highlight has been our progress on future fuels. It was clear to me from the beginning that we have one significant advantage – we know our customers, and we have enlisted their help to help them to make a realistic choice in how they decarbonise their homes. The Future Ready Fuel website launch, in partnership with OFTEC, has been very successful. Over 10% of the population of oil users in England and Wales has visited the website, and we know from feedback that many have been very active in engaging with government and local MPs – this is a solid foundation on which to build in 2023.

In Ireland, we have made progress with the launch of the Alliance for Zero Carbon Heating and the AECOM report.

And the frustrations?

Without a doubt, the first six months when I couldn’t get out to meet people. The lack of data has been a real drawback, but we have worked hard to build up our data resources and we’ve made good progress. I’m looking forward to developing this aspect further in 2023.

Data seems to be one of your core themes – why?

As we all know, data is essential for decision-making, building arguments and proposing new pathways – it enables us to deliver evidence-based content to illustrate a point of view. The lack of data held by UKIFDA and, surprisingly, the government has made a number of decisions and actions difficult to deliver.

A good example is the number of non-domestic heating oil customers in the UK. Not knowing this number has complicated the delivery of this winter’s Alternative Fuel Payment. Data is also needed to help deliver the decarbonisation strategy and I am determined to work with the industry to improve the data that is sourced and held. In 2023 I will launch the UKIFDA data project.

How is the relationship between governments and industry?

I believe this has improved significantly in the UK over the last two years and progress is being made in Ireland. Working together to battle the cost of living issues has helped the relationship and we also, fundamentally, want the same result, which is to help customers to decarbonise in a reasonable timescale and cost. We still have our differences in terms of the scale of the challenge and the part future renewable liquid fuels will play – but we have made good progress with this relationship. As mentioned above, we must be prepared to provide more data to help with decision-making, especially regarding critical aspects such as supply shortages.

In Ireland, most of UKIFDA’s activities have been through the Zero Carbon Heating Alliance, which is doing an excellent job of influencing the Irish government policy.

You have worked closely with other organisations too?

Yes, there are some excellent trade associations which represent different parts of the industry. We have built a particularly strong relationship with OFTEC in the UK, with which we launched the Future Ready Fuel campaign – reaching 100,000 website visitors in the first full year has been a great achievement. Our main relationship in Ireland is with Fuels for Ireland, which has taken a lead role in influencing government policy on decarbonisation, and we work closely with the Northern Ireland Federation on all aspects of supply and decarbonisation.

What are your key themes and objectives for 2023?

Building on the last two years:

  1. Working with government to ensure all our customers receive the Alternative Fuel Payment as efficiently as possible and to identify how we can make this a much easier process in future years, if needed.
  2. A successful new concept 2023 UKIFDA show and conference. We have taken on board the need to intersperse the significant financial commitments of a large format EXPO with the need to meet as an industry at least once a year. I have been delighted with the response to this new idea, which has already achieved a fully subscribed exhibition and strong delegate and dinner sales.
  3. To get renewable liquid fuels established as a part of government policy in the UK and Ireland and to agree on how this will be implemented.
  4. To launch a data project which will encompass all aspects of our industry. It will review what data already exists, its accuracy, and identify what data we need for the future.
  5. To continue in our quest to improve our understanding of supply and demand dynamics.
  6. Most importantly, to develop UKIFDA for its members, the sector and the consumers that rely on our members.