The Bluffer's Guide

Your essential companion to this week's big events
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Age?

42.

Occupation?

Director-general of the Office of Gas Supply, aka the gas regulator, aka the Laughing Gas regulator, after her habit of ending each sentence with a laugh.

Style?

Doyenne of the utility regulators. Not difficult, really, as she is the only female among them. She has been likened to Boudicca and Annie Oakley.

Qualifications for the job?

Among the highlights: a degree in economics from Clare College, Cambridge, a scholarship to Yale, a stint at the Treasury, and setting up and running two of her own businesses. And she has four children.

So a blow for feminism, then?

Well, up to a point.

What do you mean, up to a point?

There was the incident with the flowers ...

Go on ...

She was supposed to have sent a senior civil servant two dozen red roses.

Why?

There were all sorts of allegations about her relationship with John Michell, an under-secretary for oil and gas at the Department of Trade and Industry, who was involved in her appointment to the post.

And?

Ms Spottiswoode strenuously denied all such allegations. In the event, she hung on to her job, only to land in the soup over her pay.

Pay?

Currently estimated to be pounds 70,000, but she made no friends when she put in for a pay rise - reportedly for an extra pounds 40,000.

Task?

To keep stop British Gas abusing its monopoly powers.

In the news?

You bet. Tomorrow she publishes her new pricing regime for TransCo, the chunk of British Gas that owns the pipelines. Everyone expects fireworks. British Gas has already threatened to take her decision to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission before it has even seen it.

What's she planning?

To clamp down on the prices TransCo charges to rival gas suppliers by as much as 20 per cent. This, of course, would make a vast dent in its pounds 3bn revenues. We'll know the exact figure tomorrow.

What can she do?

This is where things get complicated. On price control, she has two options. One would be to cut "p0", which is the starting formula determining the average revenue per therm that TransCo can earn. The other would be to implement a fairly aggressive "inflation minus X" formula, limiting real annual price increases. The current X is 5 per cent. She can also look at the rate of return TransCo earns on its assets and the speed at which it depreciates them.

What does it all mean?

For shareholders, possibly another downward lurch in the British Gas share price for a start. Analysts at Barclays de Zoete Wedd reckon the dividend could be halved by 1997. But the languishing share price has already discounted most of the bad news. For consumers, it could well mean lower prices.

Comments