PAC to scrutinise regulator practice

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The Independent Online
The Public Accounts Committee has launched a wide-ranging review of regulation in the gas, electricity, water and telecommunications industries. The Gas Consumers Council called on the PAC to include "proneness to leaks" of sensitive information on the regulated industries, adding: "The disrepute growing around the regulatory system needs to be nipped in the bud."

The PAC said that the investigation, which will involve the National Audit Office, will examine the role of regulators and any recent price reviews they have carried out.

The investigation comes amid growing concern over the role of the regulators and their effect on shareholders and customers of the companies they oversee. The debate reached new heights this year when Professor Stephen Littlechild, the electricity regulator, wiped billions from share prices by announcing he would review price controls which were agreed only last August.

Professor Littlechild caused a further furore earlier this month when information on the prices appeared to have leaked into the market, forcing him to bring forward the publication of his review.

Robert Sheldon, chairman of the PAC, said he had not been prompted by the recent events in the electricity industry but had been looking at regulation for more than a year.

"The job of regulators involves problems which are common to all. Some are successful and some are far from successful," he said.

"We seemed to slip very easily into this system of regulation in the UK without sufficient forethought and we are now learning from our mistakes. The Government does not like to intervene, so there is really nobody to exercise any oversight."

He is concerned that nobody has examined how the regulators arrive at the conclusions they do. "They produce results but whether they are the best results is another matter," he said.

The review will look at the accountability of regulators, whether they achieve value for money and whether they conduct themselves properly. A report from the National Audit Office is expected to be followed up with a series of interviews.