Centrica attacks plan to cap fuel tariffs

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The chief executive of the UK's biggest power company has hit out at a proposal by the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, that would require energy companies to subsidise fuel-poor customers.

Mr Darling is expected to announce a plan this week to use the Government's reserve legal powers to cut tariffs for customers on pre-pay meters.

The energy industry, which has come under heavy criticism in recent weeks for hiking electricity and gas prices, reacted furiously to the plan.

Speaking at the Adam Smith Institute yesterday, Sam Laidlaw, the chief executive of the British Gas-owner Centrica, said: "There is a worrying tendency towards short-term fiscal interventions, or now, from some quarters, even price controls for some groups of customers."

He added: "Such intervention is contrary to the operation of competitive markets, threatens to destabilise investor confidence and risks jeopardising construction of the critical power generation and gas supply infrastructure we need."

In the wake of record profits reported by Centrica, the issue of those suffering from fuel poverty – classified as those customers who spend at least 10 per cent of their income on energy bills – has become a hot-button issue.

Mr Laidlaw warned that Mr Darling was wrongly focused on the effect rather than the cause: rising wholesale gas prices in Europe.