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Government plans super-regulatory panel for utilities

The Government is proposing to set up a supervisory panel for the utilities, reporting direct to ministers and overseeing the work of the individual regulators for the gas, telecoms, electricity and water industries, writes Michael Harrison. The proposal is contained in the Green Paper on utility regulation, due to be published by the President of the Board of Trade, Margaret Beckett, next month.

The panel would be comprised of representatives from the regulatory bodies, civil servants and members of the "great and the good" according to one senior regulatory source.

The aim behind the panel is to bring greater consistency to the way the regulators - Offer, Ofgas, Oftel and Ofwat - deal with their respective industries. Mrs Beckett is also understood to favour replacing the individual regulators with regulatory commissions, to remove personality clashes from their dealings with privatised utilities such as BT, British Gas and the regional water and electricity companies. However, it is not clear whether this will be made a firm proposal in the discussion document. The paper is expected to canvass some type of formula for taxing or capping what are deemed to be "excess" profits at the utilities.