Leading article: Speedier switching will make little difference

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The Independent Online

At first glance, it is hard to argue with Chris Huhne's promise to "get tough" with the Big Six energy suppliers by beefing up the powers of the regulator, championing consumers' rights, and challenging ever rising prices.

The problem is that the Energy Secretary's plans are unlikely to make much difference. Britain's prices are so closely allied to the wholesale market that when one company hikes its bills, the others soon follow, leaving barely £150 to choose between their average annual bills. Forcing suppliers to tell their customers if there is a cheaper tariff does have some merit. But speeding up the process of switching between them, while welcome in principle, is of little benefit when the saving is scant repayment for the hassle.

Again, there is much to be said, in principle, for efforts to break the stranglehold of the dominant giants and bring in more small suppliers. But there is little that either Ofgem, or the Competition Commission, or Mr Huhne can do that will reverse the upward trend of energy prices. The regulator's own analysis predicts bills will go up by as much as a quarter within 10 years, inflated by global oil prices, infrastructure costs and carbon-reduction commitments. Efforts to soften the blow are welcome, but of sadly limited effect.