Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: It’s time Regulator showed us its value

With consumers reeling at the news that Power NI's electricity prices are to rise by almost 20% this autumn following Phoenix Gas's 39% hike in charges earlier in the year, it is little wonder that there are calls for the utilities watchdog body to take a firmer stance against the big energy providers.

In the public's mind the Utility Regulator should be their |champion, shielding them from excessive profiteering and huge increases in charges, especially in these days of austerity.

The Regulator may argue it has saved consumers £300m in the past five years through its scrutiny of the energy and water companies and that only for its intervention every household would be |considerably worse off. Yet consumers see the gas and electricity suppliers returning substantial profits year after year and feel that this is purely at their expense. While the companies must be profitable in order to make further investments and also face global fuel cost pressures, the balance of pain seems to be inequitable.

Our story today revealing the salaries of |those who work in the Utility Regulator makes |uncomfortable reading. Its annual salary, national insurance and pension bill for its workforce of 66 was more than £4.3m in the last financial year — putting the average salary at almost £43,000. This is substantially above the national average and consumers, with justification, will wonder if the watchdog body is delivering value for money.

It hardly sets a good example to see expenditure on this scale at a time when the people it |represents are having to live on considerably |less in most instances and are still faced with |paying more for their essential energy supplies. They also remember last winter's burst pipes crisis which drew very little public response from the watchdog body. There is certainly a strong case |for the Utility Regulator being seen to be more pro-active in safeguarding consumers' interests and championing their concerns. Many people feel that it is not fully delivering on its stated role.

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