Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was in Chippenham on Wednesday to see how businesses in the town are helping to deliver economic growth.
He spent an hour at the green electricity supplier Good Energy, whom he hailed as an example of how smaller energy suppliers are succeeding in challenging the bigger utility companies.
Good Energy looks after nearly 60,000 renewable power generators across the UK and has its call centre in Monkton Hill.
Mr Clegg said: “We need a strong renewable energy sector in the UK to help reduce our foreign imports of energy, improve our energy security and to tackle climate change.
“With around 15 per cent of Britain’s electricity now coming from clean renewable sources like wind, solar and hydro, Good Energy is one company that is making a real difference.”
Juliet Davenport, Good Energy’s founder and chief executive, said there was a “genuine excitement” in the office. She said she felt “flattered” to have such a visitor and said it was important to have the opportunity to talk to policy makers.
“We must have continued support from the country’s leaders to continue to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels,” she said.
Government had been supportive but there was more which could be done to cut red tape and allow smaller businesses to thrive, she said.
Of Ofgem’s retail market review, which responded to concerns the energy market was not working for consumers, Mrs Davenport said: “Previously we used to be able to give a cash discount on a first bill but you can’t do that anymore.
"That kind of incentive breaks through the inertia [that acts against changing energy company]. There are other ways to ensure companies aren’t misrepresenting their deals.
“It was a hammer [blow], especially the fact that Nectar points were still allowed and only the Big Six can afford to do a deal with Nectar.”
But she said she did not give Mr Clegg too much of a hard time because, “I give Ed Davey [Secretary of State for energy and climate change] a hard time most of the time”.
Mr Clegg was invited to tour the company's HQ by Chippenham’s Member of Parliament Duncan Hames, who said he was proud to have a leading renewable electricity company headquartered in his constituency and he wanted the Lib Dem leader to see their “fantastic success story”.
He said: “People are completely fed up of the way the big players are operating and Juliet is trying to challenge that.”
Good Energy’s staff have more than tripled in the last couple of years to 250, prompting fears its headquarters will have to move.
Mrs Davenport confirmed that new headquarters were being considered but said she was confident they would be able to remain in Chippenham.
“We have taken on two extra buildings on the side in the last year,” she said.
“Our aim will be to stay in Chippenham, it has great transport links.”
She would not reveal which premises in the town were being considered.
Mr Clegg followed his Good Energy visit by going to the Chippenham 2020 offices on Station Hill, to see plans of Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Chippenham Vision and Network Rail for the regeneration of the railway station area, with cash from the Growth Deal.
The multi-million pound boost from Government will bring 400 more car parking spaces to the station. Two connected multi-story car parks are planned, one on each side of the line, increasing parking capacity by 50 per cent to 1,200 spaces.
Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable launched the Swindon and Wiltshire Growth Deal on July 7, a promise by the Coalition Government to invest £129million in the county between 2015 and 2021, with £12.8m in the first year.
Mr Clegg said: “I’m sure Vince Cable would say that giving power locally away from Whitehall, releasing money to the LEP to get local growth, is something I have championed for years.”
The deal commits £16m to improve Chippenham station’s accessibility and its connections with other modes of transport.
Mr Clegg said improving rail connections and thus facilitating commuting was not at odds with revitalising the town centre.
He said: “The key is to work with local employers and create jobs locally. Take Good Energy for example; they employ 250 people and want to employ more.”
Edward Heard, one of Chippenham 2020’s directors, said: “You can look at it in two ways; it is helping to bring people in to the town [as well as out].
"Half a million people a year use the train station here. We need to increase the money they’re spending in the town.”
He said it was great to discuss ways of bringing prosperity to Chippenham with the Deputy Prime Minister.
Mr Clegg said he had faith in MP Mr Hames keeping his Chippenham seat next year, and the town could expect more ministerial visits from the Lib Dems in support before the election.
Mr Clegg said: “Duncan has an established reputation here. It’s because of Duncan’s effort a lot more money is coming. The cranes we can see on the A350 are down to him.
“He is a first rate MP in Westminster. If you want an MP that gets things done, he’s the one.”