United in plea to watchdog

THE outgoing boss of United Utilities yesterday backed an investor’s plea to the water industry regulator to keep shareholders sweet as it posted lower profits, but voiced confidence on its outlook.

Philip Green, who is leaving in March, supported Invesco Perpetual fund manager Neil Woodford after he said regulation may cause inadequate investor returns. Woodford, who owns about seven per cent of United, sold his £100m stake in rival Severn Trent last month.

Green described the last regulatory review as “tough but fair”, but he said investors were needed to help the industry invest in the next few years.

“I would support Neil Woodford in saying it’s important that the regulator makes sure the equity markets get an adequate return, We’ll continue to need high levels of capital,” he said.

United, which serves about 7m people in north-west England, blamed regulatory price cuts and higher interest charges for a 24 per cent fall in core pre-tax profit to £196.2m in the six months to 30 September.

The group said it was on track to hit its 2015 targets and announced an interim dividend of 10p per share.

Green, who will be replaced by defence industry boss Steve Mogford, said he would be interested in company chairmanships. “The job at United is largely done and there are other things I would like to do,” he said.