Spottiswoode offers olive branch to Gas

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Clare Spottiswoode, the gas industry regulator, yesterday attempted to mend fences with British Gas following her outburst against the company last week suggesting it had sought to undermine her personally.

But Ofgas officials played down reports that Ms Spottiswoode had been pushed into a climbdown by ministers who want her to refrain from her "more flamboyant" criticisms of British Gas.

Last week, Ms Spottiswoode was reported as having accused British Gas of waging a dirty tricks campaign against her and Ofgas and attempting to blacken her name. Ms Spottiswoode said the company had drawn up a psychological profile of her and criticised the "huge machine" of lobbyists and public relations firms it had employed to fight proposed price controls on its pipeline division TransCo.

But in a letter issued yesterday, Ms Spottiswoode said: "I did not intend to accuse British Gas of a personal campaign against me nor do I believe I did so in my comments."

The regulator also pledged that it would be "business as usual" with British Gas, even though the two sides are to fight out the dispute over TransCo price controls before the Monopolies and Mergers Commission for the next six months.

In an attempt to clarify remarks made at a Press briefing last week, Ms Spottiswoode said in her letter: "I did say I thought the generalised attempts to influence public opinion, which appeared to have characterised much of the comment on Ofgas' proposals, had not created an atmosphere suitable to an objective discussion between British Gas and Ofgas of the complex issues involved."

Ms Spottiswoode's outburst last week brought relations with British Gas to a new low. The company disputed the charge that it had personalised the campaign while its deputy chairman, Philip Rogerson, denied any knowledge of a psychological profile having been drawn up.

However, Ofgas officials, while seeking to calm the situation, stuck by Ms Spottiswoode's assertion that the profile had been drawn up. They said it was Ms Spottiswoode's understanding that it had been conducted shortly after she took up her post at Ofgas in November, 1993.

It was by, all accounts, a common tactic by companies likely to be involved with a regulator who had immense power over them.

In her letter Ms Spottiswoode reiterates her view that the new price controls for TransCo would leave it with sufficient revenue to reward shareholders fairly and operate the network in a safe, reliable and efficient way.

"I regret that consumers will now have to wait some months before know whether they will get bill reductions. In the meantime, I intend that it will be business as usual with British Gas in the other areas where we have regular contact. This includes the development of competition in the domestic supply market, where I should like to express my appreciation of the support and hard work of British Gas staff."