Scottish Power plans a southern surge: Targets of pounds 300m sales in England and Wales and starting electricity exports to Northern Ireland

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SCOTTISH Power plans to more than triple electricity sales into England and Wales in the next few years from pounds 100m last year.

The company, one of two electricity firms north of the border, also hopes to begin exporting electricity into Northern Ireland in 1997, once work on a pounds 20m link to the province is built.

The pounds 85m upgrade of the Scottish side of the link into England and Wales was completed last September ahead of schedule.

To take full advantage of the link, Scottish Power must wait for the National Grid Company to complete the upgrade south of the border.

Scottish Power increased pre-tax profits last year by 18.2 per cent to pounds 351m. Earnings per share rose by 17.5 per cent to 31.6p and turnover by 4.9 per cent to pounds 1.57bn. The dividend for the year is 12.4p, an increase of 11.2 per cent over 1993.

Duncan Whyte, chief operating officer, said Scottish Power would continue to aim for an annual real growth in dividends of between 5 and 6 per cent.

The projection was seen in the City as bullish and the company's shares rose 11p to 378p.

Scottish Power's gearing was virtually eliminated by the year-end, largely because of pounds 36m in advance payments by customers wishing to avoid paying VAT on their gas bills.

In the year to 31 March 619 jobs in the electricity business were cut. Mr Whyte said further job losses could not be ruled out as the drive to cut costs continues.

Scottish Power, under its chief executive, Ian Preston, has accelerated the expansion of its retail operations with the acquisition for pounds 21.3m of Clydesdale Group, a retail company with 50 superstores that was in receivership. Scottish Power's retail business made an operating profit of pounds 7m last year, compared with a profit of pounds 4m in 1993 and a loss of pounds 5m three years ago.

Caledonian Gas, the gas supply subsidiary, now has 4,000 industrial and commercial customers in the UK and plans to break into the domestic market after the British Gas monopoly ends in 1996.

But the company is still waiting for approval from the Government for a pounds 100m deal with Statoil to import gas from Norway's Froy field.

Scottish Power is also diversifying into telecommunications. Last year the company invested pounds 6m installing a fibre-optic link between Glasgow and Edinburgh. It plans to spend a further pounds 9m on switching and other telecommunications equipment.

Mr Whyte said that a service for business customers should be operating around the turn of the year. The company is seeking partners to boost its presence and has been talking to US companies.

Offer, the electricity regulator, is reviewing the electricity distribution prices of the two Scottish companies and of the 12 regional companies in England and Wales.

Mr Whyte believes that because of its efficiency and cost-cutting, Scottish Power will come out of the review relatively well.

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