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Gas-fired recipe for heat in the kitchen

There is a troublesome and inescapable whiff of gas at present. But not, it would seem, in school cookery rooms. Or not for much longer.

British Gas has just axed its 20-year arrangement giving gas cookers to schools at a nominal rent. The reason: "restructuring". Which is to say that the Kings of Cookability don't want to spend the money. "The subsidies that are needed were more than we can justify," said a spokesman.

British Gas has certainly been hogging the headlines, what with a 2.9 per cent price rise for its customers and an enormous 75 per cent pay rise for chief executive Cedric Brown, which takes his salary from Pounds 270,000 to Pounds 475,000.

The same "restructuring" has seen a threatened 10 to 15 per cent pay cut for the company's retail staff.

Under the current scheme, 36,264 cookers are given out to 6,388 schools at a rent of only Pounds 50 per cooker per year, which includes a regular service. This costs British Gas Pounds 2m a year out of its Pounds 850m pre-tax surplus. Profitability - that's the beauty of gas.

As a last act of generosity, the erstwhile Gas Board is letting schools keep cookers in their possession. Saving, no doubt, the expense of hauling away the heavily used and largely unsaleable machines.

All the same, the world of domestic science is getting heated. There is concern that the similarly privatised electricity companies are starting to think the same way.

Some, such as Manweb, Norweb and Midlands Electricity, are still running subsidised schemes, persuading the local youth that alternating current does a better Bolognese. Such firms are more than happy to step into the breach. Others, such as Yorkshire Electricity, Northern Electric and Eastern Electricity have abandoned the cookery rooms.

"It's a very short-sighted and unhelpful policy to be pursuing," says Geoffrey Thompson, editor of the improbably named Modus magazine run by the National Association of Teachers of Home Economics and Technology.

Even allowing for educational discounts, schools are facing bills running into the thousands, with suitable electric cookers now retailing at Pounds 400 and gas contraptions at Pounds 300.

British Gas firmly denied that the scheme had been axed to make way for Cedric Brown's Pounds 4,000-a-week pay rise.

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