UTILITIES: Watchdogs' culture of secrecy

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The Independent Online
Watchdogs contribute to a "culture of secrecy" which blocks consumer access to information, it is claimed today. A report by the Consumers' Association accuses the regulators of being "astonishingly naive" and not pushing hard enough for reliable data from the privatised utility companies they are meant to be monitoring.

It calls on watchdogs to be more rigorous in seeking up to date information and passing it on to consumer groups - or risk ineffective regulation and weak competition.

The report, published in the Consumer Policy Review bulletin, says the regulators are too ready to trust companies to hand over accurate and comprehensive data voluntarily and are then equally ready not to pass on that information to consumers.

Information which is published is often presented in such a confusing way that it makes little sense to consumers, it is claimed.

The report's authors acknowledge that the regulators are themselves being left out in the cold by companies in some cases. They blame laws which assume information is commercially confidential unless disclosure can be shown to be in the public interest.