British Gas parent company Centrica has been busy defending its recent decision to ratchet up prices for retail customers, having just reported record annual profits.

Outgoing Centrica chief executive Roy Gardner defended massive prices rises to the already stretched UK energy consumer while the company delivered GBP1.5 billion in operating profit for 2005, which represented an 11% increase year-on-year and a record.

Defending the move to increase prices 22% just days before declaring record figures, the Centrica boss pointed to the 70% rise in wholesale gas prices during 2005 and the fact that the company did shield its customers from the rises for a period, as it made a GBP75 million loss from its retail operation in the second half of last year.

Centrica also argued that the majority of its profit came from its gas production operations, which saw annual operating profits rise 31% to GBP1 billion, and its gas storage business, which more than doubled profits to GBP154 million.

Meanwhile, the UK’s leading retail gas supplier reiterated its belief that malfunctioning markets in continental Europe are also partly to blame for Britain’s high energy prices.