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Red-faced energy boss from Belfast who advised customers to cuddle pets to stay warm

Meet NI man in charge of multi-million electricity and gas provider who had to apologise over advice to customers to cuddle their pets to stay warm

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Rich list: Stephen Fitzpatrick

Rich list: Stephen Fitzpatrick

OVO Energy. Credit: PA

OVO Energy. Credit: PA

Ovo2

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Rich list: Stephen Fitzpatrick

This is the Belfast-born multi-millionaire energy boss who apologised after customers were advised to cuddle their pets and eat lentils to keep warm in the face of soaring energy bills.

But OVO Energy founder Stephen Fitzpatrick is still under pressure as just a day after the apology, the electricity and gas provider announced it was to cut 1,700 jobs around a quarter of its workforce.

The 44-year-old, who went to Our Lady and St Patrick’s College in east Belfast, admitted during a TV interview last week he was “really embarrassed” about the “ridiculous” advice given to customers.

A 10-point plan issued by OVO-owned SSE Energy Services included “doing a few star jumps”, cuddling a pet, wearing a fleece and thick socks and eating lentils but added to avoid chilli as it makes you sweat.

Other “simple and cost-effective ways to keep warm this winter” the company suggested included opening the oven door after cooking to let heat into the house and to open curtains to let in sunlight.

Mr Fitzpatrick (44) told BBC Breakfast on Wednesday: “About half an hour after we found out that it had been sent out, we retracted it, we made a big apology.

“And clearly for all the customers that we know are worried about paying, this kind of message is just deeply unhelpful and even upsetting and I apologise.

“It was a bad day, we made a mistake, and we’ve tried to put it right as soon as possible.”

Mr Fitzpatrick’s admissions won praise on social media with Twitter users saying it was “sincere” and the right thing to do.

But OVO Energy was back in the firing line within 24 hours after news broke that 1,700 staff of the Bristol-based firm would be made redundant.

The plans will hit its Scottish bases hardest, with five offices there set to close prompting Holyrood to seek urgent talks with the company.

Mr Fitzpatrick lived in Scotland during his time as a student at the University of Edinburgh where he earned a degree in business and finance in 1995.

After finishing his master’s degree he launched The Rental Guide Ltd, a property newspaper, which saw him nominated for the Livewire Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards.

The success of the venture saw him move to jobs in the City of London with financial giants Societe Generale and JP Morgan.

In 2009, Mr Fitzpatrick left the City to set up OVO Energy and in 2014 won the Entrepreneur of the Year category at the National Business Awards.

He is now said to be worth more than £600m and is currently listed as 223rd on The Sunday Times UK Rich List and at one stage owned Manor Formula 1 racing team.

Mr Fiztpatrick also owns Vertical Aerospace which is developing an “air taxi” capable of carrying a pilot and two passengers to rival inter-city airline flights.

During his BBC Breakfast interview last week Mr Fitzpatrick called on the government to reform energy bills so the richest in society carried the biggest burden.

“It’s important to note that consumers will need to pay the real price of energy,” he said. “But what we have in our energy bills today is not only VAT but also a whole bunch of environmental and social costs that the poorest in our society are paying the highest proportion towards.

“We think these should be paid through general taxation. There’s a wide consensus across the industry that the energy charges that go on everybody’s bills are really regressive. They lead to the poorest paying the most.

“If we paid for them through general taxation, we could ensure the wealthiest in society shoulder the biggest burden. It’s something that the government could do today.”


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