(Adds more comment, background)
By Nina Chestney
LONDON, April 19 The British government will
flag "decisive action" on rising energy bills when it publishes
its response to an investigation by the country's competition
watchdog into the retail energy market, energy minister Greg
Clark said on Wednesday.
The government will publish the response to the Competition
and Markets Authority (CMA) investigation "very shortly", Clark,
secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy,
told a parliamentary committee.
But the announcement on Tuesday of a general election in
June could mean the response is not finalised before the
government enters its pre-election "purdah" period, when it
cannot announce significant legislative changes and initiatives.
"It's one of those categories that when you have an election
called, there are a number of things in the final stages of
preparation that you need to reflect on whether they can be
finalised in time," Clark said.
The government has said it will release a policy discussion
'green paper' on competition in consumer markets this spring, in
which measures to address rising retail energy bills are
"Given that the government goes into Purdah next Thursday,
any announcement would need to be made in the coming days,"
analysts at investment bank Jefferies said in a note.
Several energy companies have announced increases in
dual-fuel (gas and electricity) annual energy bills over the
past six months, which has prompted renewed calls for reform of
the UK retail energy market.
A two-year inquiry by the CMA into the market, which
concluded last year, stopped short of imposing a widespread
price cap, instead proposing a price cap on pre-payment meters,
used by poorer households, among other measures.
In February, Britain's energy market regulator Ofgem said it
had the power to cap energy price tariffs but the decision was a
matter for the government.
"The response you will see will be muscular and strong and
apply to all companies who are disadvantaging consumers in this
way," Clark said.
Many energy firms have said the price rises are due to
wholesale price increases and the cost of delivering on
government low-carbon policies.
However, Clark said their explanations had not dissuaded him
from the action the government will take.
"I don't want to preempt what our response will be ... but
the government intends to act on what is a flagrant mistreatment
of customers," he said.
(Reporting by Nina Chestney; Editing by Susan Fenton and Mark