PROFITS at Scottish Gas-owner Centrica are set to rise after the energy supplier revealed a boost in consumption following a colder than normal start to the year.
Centrica also said that its Scottish Gas and British Gas retail business had stemmed the flow of customers leaving, with the number of accounts on its books staying at 14.8 million following a 5 per cent cut in gas tariffs from the end of February.
Residential gas consumption was 10 per cent higher than a year earlier, with electricity demand 2 per cent up in the first three months of 2015. The FTSE 100 company, headed by former BP downstream boss Iain Conn, reported improved profitability in its supply business in the first quarter but said this was more than offset by lower commodity prices in its production arm.
It also announced that it had set aside an additional £50 million over the next three years to improve customer service. Recruitment for the first 350 new jobs will begin next month, with vacancies in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Leeds and Manchester.
As well as a drive to reduce call waiting times, there will be extra training for British Gas’s customer service employees.
In 2014, British Gas operating profits fell 23 per cent to £439m after a half-million fall in customer accounts and a £100 decline in average bills as gas consumption dropped by a fifth in warmer weather.
The wider group saw adjusted operating profits fall 35 per cent to £1.75 billion as it was also hit by extreme weather patterns in its North America business while plunging oil and gas prices hit its power generation.
Centrica highlights a number of factors that could influence its performance this year, such as the outcome of the general election and the Competition and Markets Authority investigation into the UK energy market which is due to deliver provisional findings in the summer.
The trading update covering the first quarter of this year was issued ahead of the company’s annual meeting in London.