British Gas Owner In Business Shake-Up

Centrica will on Wednesday unveil a restructuring designed to provide a clearer road-map to investors about its ambitions to become a bigger player in North America and the global energy sector.

I understand that the owner of British Gas will announce alongside its annual results that it is planning a clearer separation of its business between upstream, or exploration, and downstream energy delivery to customers.

Mark Hanafin, the executive who runs Centrica Energy, the division focused on exploiting UK and Norwegian gas reserves, will head a new unit focused on broader international upstream effort.

Centrica will also confirm the widely-expected departure of Phil Bentley, the managing director of British Gas, who is stepping down after 12 years with the company.

Mr Bentley, who will not receive a payoff but who will leave with a share options and pension package he has earned during his 30-year career, will be replaced by Chris Weston, who heads Direct Energy, Centrica's US retail arm.

Mr Weston will effectively head a new, more integrated downstream division as part of a reorganisation that will signal an increasing nod towards North America.

The focus of Centrica's full-year results is expected to be the annual controversy over its profitability in its UK retail operation, which made hundreds of millions of pounds last year.

Sam Laidlaw, the company's chief executive, will point to the number of external factors which determine UK consumers' energy bills.

In an effort to head off criticism of British Gas's profits, Centrica is publishing a report claiming that it delivered £14bn in value to the economy.

Mr Laidlaw is also expected to highlight the importance of Centrica's role in the search for 'global gas' following the company's decision earlier this month not to pursue a nuclear energy partnership with EDF, the French utility.

The company possesses sufficient financial firepower to expand its development of new gas reserves, and this capacity will be enhanced by its nuclear decision, Mr Laidlaw will signal.

Centrica declined to comment on Tuesday.