Offer admits systems not ready for competition

Regional electricity companies may have to ditch their costly computer systems and return to carrying out transactions by hand to meet next year's timetable for domestic competition, the industry regulatory revealed yesterday.

Professor Stephen Littlechild also admitted for the first time that his original pounds 250m estimate for the cost of introducing competition could be much too low, which could mean higher bills for customers.

In the latest embarrassing disclosure about the progress towards competition, Professor Littlechild said his department, Offer, was working on several contingency plans if the regional power suppliers (RECs) failed to complete ambitious software projects. The industry is investing hundreds of millions of pounds in computer systems which talk to each other, enabling the RECs to log where customers move to when they switch suppliers.

Professor Littlechild insisted to MPs at the Commons Trade and Industry Select Committee that competition would not end in the kind of problems which hit the commercial market in 1994. "Competition will take place and there won't be chaos," he promised.

However, in order to meet the six-month timetable, which would introduce competition nationwide using postal codes between April and September next year, suppliers may have to resort to some unorthodox ways of arranging customer transfers. "We're talking of manual systems to enable customers to change suppliers ... It won't be as cheap," he explained.

The most likely contingency plan was for customers who switched to receive bills from the new company, which would then settle up the cost behind the scenes in a temporary contract with the local REC.

"It's a sensible thing to have this fall-back position but it's an undesirable situation to be in. We hope it won't happen," said Tony Boorman, Offer's head of competition. "We're not talking about going back to the quill pen here. It's just that some of the companies may have to go back to their old computer systems."

One REC, Sweb, said last week it had postponed a pounds 35m customer computer project until 2000, blaming problems with introducing competition. Offer has appointed the PA Consulting group to manage the process, but many RECs privately say the timetable is ridiculously tight.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Senior SEO Executive

£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before