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|Operating profits at British Gas jumped
by 58% in 2009 to a record high, its parent company Centrica has
British Gas's residential energy arm saw its operating profit climb
to £595m last year from £376m in 2008, beating the previous high of
£573m in 2007.
The announcement comes just days after energy regulator Ofgem
reported that energy firms' profit margins had risen in recent
Earlier this month, British Gas said it was cutting its gas prices
Adjusted operating profit at Centrica fell 7% to £1.86bn.
Centrica chief executive Sam Laidlaw said British Gas's profit
margin had been about 8% for 2009 and the company was aiming for
about 7% this year. The group also said British Gas would create
1,100 jobs in 2010.
Centrica said it realised 2009 was "a difficult year for many of our
[British Gas] customers".
British Gas is the UK's largest energy supplier. It gained 141,000
residential customers last year, taking the total number of
households it serves to 15.7 million.
Centrica chairman Roger Carr said: "British Gas was the first of the
major suppliers to reduce prices in 2009 which, combined with
reduced average consumption, provided a welcome reduction in bills."
The company also said that British Gas had reduced its prices
three times in the past 12 months.
However, campaign group Consumer Focus called for "immediate and
significant price cuts across the market".
"Energy companies have no excuses for not cutting bills for their
customers. It is clear the problems in the energy market are
profound and that it requires fundamental reform," said Consumer
Focus deputy chief executive Philip Cullum.
"Unlike the other members of 'Big Six', British Gas reports its
results in detail and so takes much of the flak that deserves to be
shared with the other companies. If ever a market was crying out for
greater transparency it is the current UK energy market."
Ann Robinson, from the price comparison site uSwitch, said it was
"time for the spotlight to be turned on the remaining five suppliers
who are yet to say a word".
On Monday, Ofgem published a report saying that profit margins at
energy suppliers had risen by an estimated £30 a year.
The average margin for dual fuel customers had risen to £105 a year
in February, from £75 a year in November, the regulator said,
although the energy industry disputed the figures.
And on Wednesday, Ofgem chief executive Alistair Buchanan warned
companies not to "short change" customers.
Energy suppliers have faced questions about their prices at a time
when wholesale costs have been falling.
Centrica chief Sam Laidlaw admitted: "We did get squeezed in 2008 as
commodity prices rose."
But he added: "With the price reduction that we have just made we've
passed reductions [in wholesale prices] back to consumer prices."