Scottish Power eyes the south

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The Independent Online
Scottish Power, which bought Manweb last year for pounds 1.1bn, yesterday laid out its plans for further major expansion in the electricity sector undeterred by the series of recent government rulings curbing takeover activity in the industry.

Ian Robinson, the company's chief executive, said it aimed to increase its presence in England and Wales so that by 1999 Scottish Power was exporting a third of its output south of the border. He also hinted that Scottish Power was keen to increase its presence in generation outside Scotland, pointing out that it only accounted for 5 per cent of the market in England and Wales.

Capital investment will rise to pounds 300m this year but total expenditure could easily be double if Scottish Power were to build a new gas-fired generating plant.

"The UK utility sector still offers considerable scope for growth and we have a lot to do to develop our multi-utility role", Mr Robinson said. In particular, Scottish Power intends to exploit its customer base, which has risen to three million with the takeover of Manweb, to expand its telecoms and gas supply businesses. It is aiming for 10 per cent of the Scottish telecoms market by 2003. It also plans an aggressive attack on the domestic gas market when it is liberalised in 1998.

Mr Robinson was speaking as Scottish Power unveiled a 25 per cent rise in underlying operating profits last year to pounds 477m and pledged to increase dividends by 7 to 8 per cent a year in real terms, compared with a previous target of 5 to 6 per cent. The payout for the year was increased by 13.6 per cent to 15.5p.

Manweb, the regional electricity supplier for Merseyside and North Wales, which was acquired in October, contributed pounds 80m in operating profits. But after pounds 43m of exceptional charges connected with the takeover and a sharp rise in interest payments to pounds 30m, pre-tax profits rose by a more modest 8 per cent to pounds 435m.

Mr Robinson said the restructuring of Manweb involving 1,600 job losses between March 1995 and March next year was ahead of schedule, with annual savings set to exceed pounds 80m.

A buyer is being sought for Manweb's Chester headquarters, which was built to accommodate 1,400 people, actually housed 700 before Scottish Power took over and will now need a staff of just 75.

Scottish Power played down the prospect of buying another Rec, however, saying that the few remaining independent Recs commanded a high premium while the regulatory position on onership had beome unclear.

Sales in developing businesses - retail, telecoms and gas - increased by pounds 53m to pounds 273m.