Energywatch calls on MPs to end industry oligopolies

Posted on 21 May 2008 by The Manufacturer

A leading energy watchdog yesterday called upon MPs to take action against what it identifies as unfair oligopolies which currently control the British utilities market.

Energywatch chief executive, Allan Asher, told the Treasury Select Committee that 4.5 million households are now in fuel poverty. He highlighted discrepancies between costs and the way consumer’s pay, labelling pre-pay systems “the poor-pay-more meters”, while calling for the Competition Commission to investigate the sector.

Vertical integration of production and distribution companies and behind-closed-doors tie-in deals are to blame, says Asher, for inflated bills and lack of competition. He said: “If generators were forced to sell significantly more electricity on the open market it would enable prices to be set more openly and encourage vigorous new entrants into the market.”

An Australian barrister and established consumer champion, Asher went on to identify the link between oil and gas prices as a contributing factor. With household gas bills having reportedly risen 109 per cent over the past four years, It is the producers, Asher says, and not the suppliers, who are to blame by creating “artificial and exploitative” links. He pointed to Government and Ofgem research which attributed 40 per cent of the price of gas here in Britain to the links with oil established in Europe, adding that it was time to “take the fight to the big producers”.

Fuel poverty charities, energy companies and large energy consumers are also due to report to the Treasury Select Committee over the course of their study. Asher, the former deputy chairman of the Australian competition and consumer commission, will leave his post as chief executive in September when Energywatch merges with the National Consumer Council.