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Mid Kent considers bid for Folkestone

Utilities: United criticises Offer for underestimating scale of electricity roll-out as two water companies announce rise in profits
Mid Kent Water yesterday unexpectedly signalled its interest in buying neighbouring Folkestone and Dover Water Services, owned by one of the two French utility giants which were blocked from buying the Maidstone- based group earlier this year after a lengthy Monopolies & Mergers Commission investigation, writes Chris Godsmark.

Geoff Baldwin, chief executive of the Mid Kent Holdings parent company, said he had raised the possibility of a bid for Folkestone and Dover with General Utilities, part of Generale des Eaux, the utility conglomerate which owns 24 per cent of Mid Kent's shares. Saur, the other French group which owns South East Water, sold its 20 per cent stake in Mid Kent after the proposed joint bid was blocked by Ian Lang, former President of the Board of Trade.

"It's something we've talked about with General Utilities. But we are not going aggressively into battle," said Mr Baldwin. He said it would be a good way for General Utilities to realise the value of its investment in Mid Kent, should it decide to sell its shares.

Mid Kent defended the pounds 2.4m cost of the MMC process, much of which had gone to pay its lawyers, Norton Rose. But Mr Baldwin was concerned that the DTI had still not imposed formal undertakings on the two groups to prevent further bid approaches.

"We were in the pending tray when John Major called the election. The undertakings need reconfirming. I want assurances from the DTI that they will be in place," he said.

The comments came as Mid Kent announced a 12 per cent rise in annual profits to pounds 13.8m and signalled its intention to seek shareholders' approval to buy back 10 per cent of its shares.