British Gas delay thwarted

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The Independent Online

Industrial Correspondent

The Government yesterday thwarted attempts by British Gas to delay competition in the domestic gas market, demanding that the industry stick to a start date of 1 April next year.

Tim Eggar, minister for energy and industry, insisted at a meeting yesterday that British Gas and its rivals work together to resolve any potential problems with computers or billing. One industry source who attended the talks said: "It was an extremely forcefully led meeting by Mr Eggar."

It is understood that there may be rationing of the number of people who can transfer from British Gas per day in the initial stages, but only as a last resort. The Government may appoint a co-ordinator to ensure smooth progress in the run-up to the deadline.

The key meeting was called by the minister following concerns among British Gas's competitors that the company was deliberately dragging its feet. Clare Spottiswoode, the industry watchdog, who also attended the meeting, is also thought to have become irritated by the company's attitude.

The importance of the issue was underlined by the decision of Cedric Brown, British Gas's chief executive, to attend the meeting. He was accompanied by Harry Moulson, managing director of the British Gas pipeline arm, Transco. Transco has argued that the systems required to allow multiple competitors into the marketplace needed more time for testing.

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