Centrica faces backlash over rise in profits

CENTRICA chief executive Sam Laidlaw was yesterday forced to defend its price hikes late last year, as the energy giant posted a nine per cent rise in full-year profit from its British Gas business.

Laidlaw flagged that Centrica was facing “increased costs in supplying energy”, and that the group was committed to helping its customers.

“It’s important that Centrica makes a fair and reasonable return so that we can continue to make our contribution to society and to invest,” Laidlaw said yesterday.

British Gas parent Centrica posted a five per cent jump in adjusted earnings to £1.4bn over the year, boosted by the colder weather.

FTSE 100-listed Centrica yesterday said it would focus on expanding its North American business, as well as growing upstream oil and gas production, following its decision earlier this month to pull out of the UK’s new nuclear programme.

Over the next three to five years, Centrica said it was targeting a doubling in profitability of the North American downstream business, through a mix of organic growth and acquisitions.

Moves were taken to return cash to shareholders, with the dividend up six per cent to 16.4p a share, and a share buy back programme of £500m announced yesterday.

Centrica also confirmed that British Gas managing director Phil Bentley is to step down at the end of the year following 12 years with the company, in a move which had previously been flagged.

Analysts from Liberum called it a “largely uninspiring update”.