British Gas owner Centrica has withdrawn from the auction to snap up collapsed energy provider Bulb in a blow to government’s efforts to find a buyer for the firm, according to reports.
Bulb collapsed in November last year amid soaring natural gas prices, and the government intervened to ensure its customers were not left without energy supply.
Ministers had intended to sell the business by the end of July, but the withdrawal of Centrica leaves just two potential bidders and threatens to derail a competitive bidding process, the Financial Times reported, citing sources close to the deal.
Lazards is handling the sale of the firm, with bids due this Thursday.
Bulb has been haemorrhaging cash since it was bailed out by taxpayers in November, with an £886m loss in total – equivalent to almost £600 for each customer on its books, a report from administrator Teneo revealed.
Ministers set aside £1.7bn to cover the running costs of the firm, making it the biggest taxpayer bailout since the financial crisis. Around £900m had already been spent on the firm last month.
Abu Dhabi’s Masdar and Octopus Energy are the two firms that will be left in the running if Centrica goes ahead with the withdrawal, after Octopus launched an eleventh-hour bid for the firm earlier this month.