SCOTTISH Gas owner Centrica has highlighted a good performance by the North Sea business it had been trying to offload and which it now plans to repurpose.

Strong production volumes in the North Sea in the first four months helped Centrica capitalise on the recent surge in gas prices, putting it on track to achieve annual profits at the upper end of analysts’ expectations.

The success may fuel calls for a windfall tax to be imposed on energy firms as millions of consumers grapple with steep increases in their energy bills. The cap on prices was raised in April by 54 per cent by the regulator, to £1,971 per year, and is expected to rise to around £2,900 in October.

Noting the potential for increased bad debt charges, Centrica said it planned to recruit an additional 500 customer service staff.

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The group said significant uncertainties remain over the balance of the year, including the impacts of weather, commodity prices movements, asset performance and inflationary pressures in the UK.

However, directors appear confident the group will make progress

“Volumes from our nuclear and gas production assets in the UK have been strong and our Energy Marketing & Trading business has both secured increased volumes of gas and renewable energy to improve the UK and Europe’s security of supply and managed increased commodity price volatility well,” said Centrica.

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Centrica has a 20 per cent interest in the fleet of operational nuclear energy plants in the UK. The group’s trading arm can access supplies of gas and LNG on international markets.

The group appears to have had a change of heart about the UK North Sea business in recent months after spending some time trying to sell it.

HeraldScotland: Spirit Energy has a stake in the giant Cygnus field Picture: SpiritSpirit Energy has a stake in the giant Cygnus field Picture: Spirit

The business forms part of the Spirit Energy business, in which Centrica has a 69 per cent stake that it put up for sale in 2019 after deciding to focus on the supply of energy to households and small firms.

The group said it has started to evaluate longer term options for repurposing Spirit’s retained UK assets to aid the energy transition.

In December Centrica clinched an £800m deal to sell the Spirit Energy Norway business. It said then it would focus on realising value from Spirit’s remaining reserves and on using its infrastructure to help the UK on its path to net zero.

Centrica shares closed up four per cent, 2.82p, at 74.76p.