Scottish Power payouts set for growth: Fuel costs cut by 5 per cent; Police probe illegal multiple share applications

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SCOTTISH POWER is confident of paying dividend increases of 5 per cent a year after inflation until at least the latter half of the decade, according to Ian Preston, chief executive.

He also disclosed that a planned near doubling of electricity exports through the interconnector to England and Wales had been brought forward by three months to October.

Export growth, along with fuel savings and labour reductions, lay behind a 14 per cent increase in pre-tax profits to pounds 297.1m in the year to 31 March. The dividend is 10.1 per cent higher at 11.15p with a final of 7.43p.

The results, which opened the electricity reporting season, coincided with news that the Lothian and Borders Fraud Squad had finally launched an investigation into illegal multiple applications when Scottish Power and its sister company, Hydro-Electric, were privatised in June 1991.

Operating profits rose by 17.2 per cent to pounds 329.8m on a 7.3 per cent increase in sales to pounds 1.49bn.

Profit margins widened from 20.3 per cent to 22.2 per cent of sales. Scottish Power took advantage of low international coal prices to cut fuel costs by 5 per cent. Labour costs fell by pounds 7m despite a 5.5 per cent wage increase as the company shed a further 700 jobs last year. The workforce has been cut by 23 per cent to 8,000 full-time equivalent since March 1991.

The profits were struck after a pounds 23m provision for restructuring. In total the company has pounds 50m of provisions as yet unspent, which will cover another round of job losses running into hundreds this year.

Exports to England and Wales rose by 3 per cent despite disruptive work on upgrading the interconnector. Higher capacity will permit the company to increase volume from 350MW to 610MW from October.

Scottish Power shares rose by 2p to 315p to yield 4.4 per cent.

Seeboard, the electricity distributor for the South-east of England, is to cut domestic and most business tariffs by moreE than 3 per cent from 1 June, reflecting the expected fall in coTHER write erroral prices after the Heseltine review. The company said that a typical household would save more than pounds 10 a year on its electricity bill.

(Photograph omitted)