The £4.3m-a-year chief executive of British Gas-owner Centrica yesterday risked the wrath of customers as he warned of steep rises in household energy bills.
Sam Laidlaw warned that the trend for bills "remained upwards", arguing that wholesale gas prices would be about 15 per cent higher this winter than last. Analysts said that his comments suggested that the average annual household energy bill could rise by as much as £100 in the next year to 18 months.
Caroline Flint, shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary, said: "Hard-pressed families and pensioners struggling to make ends meet will be astonished that Centrica, who made billions in profits and paid out millions in bonuses last year, are now threatening another round of price hikes."
Tom Lyon, energy expert at uSwitch.com, a price comparison service, said: "This is deeply worrying ... it's clear that suppliers are warning of trouble ahead. I would urge consumers to prepare for the worst."
Mr Lyon said Centrica's warning was particularly concerning "as consumers are still struggling to come to terms with the £224, or 21 per cent, increase in bills from the end of 2010 and only enjoyed a £41, or 3.2 per cent, reduction at the beginning of this year."
Ed Matthew, director of Transform UK, the group behind the Energy Bill Revolution campaign for lower energy bills, added: "Energy bills are set to rise again, inflicting more pain and suffering on British households."
Some of the anger over Centrica's treatment of its customers boiled over into its annual shareholders meeting yesterday. "How arrogant is this company that you want to abuse your customers," said one shareholder, adding that paying bonuses to executives such as Mr Laidlaw "is an insult to decency".
It recently emerged that Mr Laidlaw gets a £680 discount on his own household bills from Centrica.
Some 16 per cent of Centrica's investors failed to endorse the pay and bonus packages of its top executives at the meeting. Some 12 per cent voted against the company's remuneration report, while another 4 per cent abstained.