NIM disappointed with Regulator’s Report
The long-awaited Utility Regulator’s report into business electricity tariffs in Northern Ireland and how huge price increases were communicated to customers is insufficient in its scope and disappointing in its conclusions. Only 17 companies which had submitted written complaints about the rise in the energy bills were interviewed, which is simply not enough to gain a comprehensive assessment of the impact of the cost rises, which have taken such a toll on the manufacturing sector.
Commenting, Bryan Gray, NIM Chief Executive said: “The Regulator’s report does not reflect the depth of concern in the business community about the level of energy charges here. To say that only 17 complaints were received belies the fact that he met with a number of trade associations, including ourselves, who represent hundreds of businesses - over half of the large commercial users of energy in NI.
“We are disappointed that the Regulator has not attempted to quantify or provide any rational explanation for the huge disparity between energy prices here, in Great Britain and our European neighbours. Neither does he appear to be developing any strategy for reducing the difference. Our research shows that manufacturers in Northern Ireland are paying between 50% and 75% more than in Britain and over 50% more than in the USA. Until this differential is reduced will continue to prejudice the competitiveness of local companies and eliminate opportunities for inward investment.”
IGNORED ATTEMPS TO WIDEN FOCUS
NIM also finds it astonishing that the Regulator is apparently happy to dismiss the lack of competition between energy suppliers here as “cock up rather than collusion” without making any real investigation into the issue. The group also expressed disappointment that the enquiry only focused on those who complained and that he ignored the Association’s attempts to widen his focus or supply him with further data.
The Regulator’s report identifies several actions for enhancing the electricity supply market:
• Develop a single source (website) for information on electricity tariffs;
• Encourage suppliers to improve the clarity of their billing and quotation information;
• Produce a buyer’s guide as a tool for businesses to choose their electricity supplier more effectively;
• More regular briefings with business customers by the Regulator; and
• Increase monitoring of the electricity supply market by the Regulator
RATHER FLIPPANT ATTITUDE
“He has admitted that transparency on energy bills is poor but stated that if transparency does not improve “within a couple of years” he will take regulatory action,” continued Bryan. “However, Northern Ireland Manufacturing has heard distressing evidence of the severity of the impact of energy cost rises directly from our own members. We feel that the Regulator’s rather flippant attitude is simply not good enough from the office charged with protecting our interests!
“We believe that this enquiry has further eroded confidence among our members in the Regulator’s independence and ability to exercise the necessary controls on the energy market. We will be making further representations to the Assembly which has proved to be supportive of our case when we last briefed them on this issue.”
A full copy of the Regulator’s report can be downloaded at: http://www.niaur.gov.uk/uploads/publications/Business_Tariff_Inquiry_Report_