'End gas monopoly by 1996'

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The Independent Online
INDEPENDENT gas suppliers will call tomorrow for the removal of British Gas's domestic monopoly by October 1996, six years before the date proposed by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, writes Helen Kay.

They are believed to challenge the MMC's view that BG should be split up before competition is introduced in the supply of gas to households.

They also take issue with the recommended timetable for phased removal of the tariff threshold, under which large users would not be able to choose their supplier until 1997, and small users (those using less than 1,500 therms) until the year 2000 at the earliest.

The independents are thought to argue against BG's claim that 12 million customers would be worse off as a result of the proposed changes: they say greater efficiency would achieve savings on the standing charge and price per therm for all customers, regardless of location or volume used.

Michael Heseltine, preparing to resume his role at the Department of Trade and Industry after a heart attack, is expected to act on the MMC's recommendations shortly.

BG, vigorously defending the present timetable, claims that gas prices, domestic and industrial, have fallen in real terms since privatisation, while electricity and water prices have risen. It is expected to draw attention to the fact that the regional electricity companies - many of which have a stake in the independent gas suppliers - will retain their franchise limits until 1998.