A Government commissioned report maintains high labour costs and inefficiencies at ESB power stations add €100m to its costs compared with its EU peers. It reveals that the average wage of relevant staff is €92,000, but at Poolbeg power plant in Dublin the figure is €142,000.

The report, by consulting group Deloitte, recommends the partial break-up of the ESB, but the Government has ruled out such a move.

It says Irish electricity prices are higher than other European countries. For small domestic users, they are 51% above the average in Europe.

Deloitte blames the country's dependence on oil and gas, the prices of which have risen sharply, and the ESB's high labour costs and inefficiencies.

Its report says there is a lack of availability of power generation. In other words, stations can generate electricity only 80% of the time, compared with 90% in other countries.

Deloitte recommends a partial break-up the ESB to encourage more competition. but Natural Resources Minister Noel Dempsey has ruled out such a radical measure, saying its not suitable for the Irish market.

One element of its report which was included in the Government's Green Paper yesterday is the setting aside of landbanks beside power station so competitors can come into the market.

* Small business group ISME has criticised the Government's decision not to break up the ESB. It described the decision as 'a retrograde step that will simply prevent competition from entering the marketplace'.