Centrica's woes are a money-spinner for Vodafone

One of the many unexpected misfortunes suffered last year by the old British Gas has turned into a huge money-spinning opportunity for Vodafone, the UK's largest mobile phone operator, it has emerged.

Plans to improve productivity from British Gas's 6,000 engineers who spend their time installing and servicing central heating boilers had to be put on hold as new communications technology failed to materialise on time.

Centrica, the gas supply business split off from British Gas in last month's landmark demerger, aimed to reduce staff numbers by equipping each engineer with a sophisticated lap-top computer complete with CD-Rom technology. Employees would log each completed job on their screen and send the information back to base using in-cab radio links, ending the time-consuming and expensive process of returning to base after each appointment to record the work on paper over a cup of coffee.

As customers subscribing to the "three-star" service contract will testify, the computers arrived on time. The radio technology, on the other hand, did not. Staff could impressively type each job on to their lap-top, but had no way of sending it back to base. To make matters worse, employees who had applied to take up British Gas's offer of voluntary redundancy had to be kept on to plug the gap.

By the autumn the problem had become so serious that Centrica took drastic action. It abandoned the idea of using beefed-up radio technology and placed an order with Vodafone for no less than 7,000 mobile telephones. Vodafone claimed yesterday that it was its biggest data communications order. A spokeswoman declined to put a figure on the deal, though it is thought to last for three years and depends partly on the number of calls made. The annual subscription enabling the 6,000 engineers to use the network is thought to be more than pounds 5m. Panasonic, the Japanese electronics giant, supplied the digital handsets.

Last week Roy Gardner, Centrica's chief executive, talked darkly of his frustration at last year's delays, which cost the company millions in lost efficiency gains, but pointed out that the productivity boost would come through sharply this year. The difficulties helped push the service business into losses of pounds 196m for 1996, only slightly down from the pounds 217m lost in 1995. Mr Gardner insisted his target of bringing the service division into profit by the end of next year still stood, despite the unexpected technology hiccup.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Services - City, London

£50000 - £55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Service...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Did you know? SThree is the o...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence