UPDATE 2-Britons told to shop around for energy
* New measures unlikely; focus on awareness of all offers* Labour: “Warm words” not enough; use profits to cut pricesBy Michael HoldenLONDON, Oct 17 (Reuters) - British households struggling to pay rising fuel bills should change supplier, check their tariffs, or insulate their homes to try to save money, energy secretary Chris Huhne said after ministers met the “Big Six” energy companies for talks.Huhne said Monday’s meeting was “encouraging” and denied suggestions that, without an actual fuel price cut, the outcome would do little to help fuel consumers.”This is not small beer,” he told reporters. “On an average dual fuel bill of about 1,300 pounds ($2,050), by switching you can actualy get about 200 pounds off your energy bill.”Huhne has dismissed opposition Labour calls for the government to pressure companies to use growing profit to cut bills, saying it would be wrong for ministers to try to set prices. “This is a market and we have to make sure it is a fair market,” he said.More competition, greater transparency in the wholesale energy market and consumers shopping around would combine to drive down energy costs, he said.With household finances squeezed, the cost of electricity and gas has shot up the political agenda and the government is under pressure to be seen to be taking action.The energy summit came as the coalition government faces pressure from angry consumers already feeling the pressure from weak growth, public cuts and tax rises. Unemployment has jumped to a 17-year high, inflation is more than double the two percent target and wage growth is muted.”The companies are not the Salvation Army. We expect them to earn respectable returns for their shareholders,” Huhne told BBC radio before the talks. “But they need to be operating in a fair and competitive market.”More than eight out of 10 customers have never checked to see if they could get a better deal and they should now start to pay more attention to both their supplier and tariff, he added.Energy bills have risen dramatically in recent months as companies hike prices due to higher wholesale costs, meaning an average dual fuel bill in Britain costs 1,345 pounds ($2,125) a year, the watchdog Ofgem said last week.The regulator said companies were making 125 pounds per customer in profit, the highest level since at least 2004, compared with 15 pounds in June. Suppliers dispute the figures.PROFITS NEEDEDHuhne said companies needed to make a decent return to be able to invest in power stations because a quarter of Britain’s electricity generating capacity will need to be replaced over the next 10 years.In its proposed reforms last week, Ofgem said energy companies would have to simplify their billing and pricing structures which it said were far too complex.Britain’s six largest utilities are German groups E.ON and RWE , British companies Centrica and Scottish and Southern Energy , French operator EDF and Spanish firm Iberdrola .Ahead of the summit, RWE’s npower said it would freeze prices for customers on standard residential tariffs for the coming winter. Centrica’s British Gas also announced a pledge not to raise energy prices for variable rate customers this winter.
Israel police arrest man opposed to prisoner swap
A police spokesman said the man, whom he declined to name, was the son of a couple killed in a Jerusalem pizzeria suicide bombing in Jerusalem in 2001.Islamist group Hamas has said that two Palestinians who helped carry out the attack were among 1,027 prisoners Israel has agreed to free in return for the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier abducted by Gaza militants in June 2006.”His parents were killed in the bombing and he was apparently protesting against the prisoner exchange. He is still being questioned,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.Television footage from the scene showed the memorial covered in white paint and sprayed graffiti on a wall calling for Rabin’s killer to be freed and the words “price tag” — a slogan associated with hardline Jewish West Bank settlers.Debate has raged in Israel over the release of convicted killers in such a large number in exchange for one person. Many of those opposed are relatives of people killed in attacks who say the freed prisoners will return to militancy.The 2001 pizzeria bombing killed 15 people and came in the early stages of the second Palestinian Intifada. One of those held responsible for the attack was a young woman, Ahlam Tamimi, who drove the suicide bomber to the target.She is serving a life sentence for her role in the blast and is expected to be sent into exile to Jordan after her release, which is due next Tuesday as part of the Shalit deal.The prisoner swap, over three years in the making, was finally brokered last week with Egyptian mediation between Israel and the Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.Some 450 Palestinian men and 27 women are due to be freed in the first phase of the swap, with Shalit expected to be handed over to Israel simultaneously. A further 550 Palestinians will be released next month.Israel is set to publish the list of prisoners it will free late Saturday or early Sunday. It has already said that almost 300 of them are men are serving life terms.After the list is released on the Israel Prisons Authority web site, there will be a 48-hour period during which the Supreme Court can hear legal objections.Families of the Israeli victims have said they will protest, but this is not expected to halt the swap, which has broad political and public support in Israel.Shalit was grabbed by militants who tunneled into an Israeli army border position next to Gaza in 2006. Israeli forces had withdrawn from Gaza a year earlier, shutting off the coastal enclave behind a heavily guarded security fence.Shalit was 19 at the time of his capture and is now 25. The last sign of life received from the soldier was a videotape made by his captors in September 2009 where he pleaded for his life.
UAE’s Etisalat unveils pay-by-phone system
This is based on near-field communication (NFC) technology and will enable customers to use their mobile phone to make payments for goods and services costing $50 or less, pending approval from the UAE banking and telecoms regulators. Etisalat predicts it will launch the service before year-end.”Hopefully, by adding services, especially financial services, this is an application that our subscribers will appreciate and stay with us,” Enrique Beza, Etisalat senior manager for M-commerce, told reporters at a conference in Dubai.Rival carrier du now claims a 44 percent share of the UAE’s mobile subscribers, having launched services in 2007, and both operators are pushing smart phones to boost data revenues and offset flagging voice margins.Etisalat is promoting PayPass on Research in Motion’s BlackBerry Bold 9900 device, although it will also become available on other smart phones.The operator plans to extend PayPass so that subscribers can link it to their bank account or credit card, but this will not be available until at least 2012.