Industry bosses pile on pressure for more support amid energy price rises

·4-min read

Ministers are facing calls to continue talks with industry bosses in a bid to stop firms going to the wall amid rising energy costs.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng held talks with industry leaders last week, and ministers and officials are set to continue speaking with businesses on Monday and throughout the week.

But the Government is facing demands for “immediate action” to protect firms from rising costs.

Mr Kwarteng has pledged to keep the energy price cap in place to help households struggling with rising costs. But he has offered no new support for businesses after bosses and some Tory MPs called for help to prevent them going under as wholesale prices soar.

Energy prices
A smart meter on a gas hob. (Yui Mok/PA)

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Dave Dalton, chief executive at British Glass, said a meeting on Friday had started the process of asking for support.

He said: “It seemed to prick the ears of the Secretary of State to asking a civil servant to work with us quickly and closely to build an ask to go to Treasury.

“We didn’t get to specifics, the meeting was very much an introductory one, and we had rather hoped over the weekend and today that that dialogue would be extended.

“It’s very alarming to hear the Treasury are making denials over the approach, let alone anything else. We need immediate action.”

Gareth Stace, director general of UK Steel, has called on the Prime Minister to “bang ministerial heads together” to avoid an industry crisis hitting his sector.

The PA news agency understands ministers and officials will continue to speak to industry figures on Monday and throughout the week.

But it comes amid a feud in Whitehall as the Treasury flatly denied having been in talks with the Business Department over any support.

Mr Kwarteng indicated on Sunday that struggling manufacturers and energy firms will not get much more support but said he was working closely with Chancellor Rishi Sunak to help the industry.

However, a senior Treasury source insisted to the PA news agency that no such talks have taken place despite firms pleading for help to prevent further collapses as wholesale gas prices spiral.

On Monday, Home Office Minister Damian Hinds denied Mr Kwarteng lied when he said there were discussions between Government departments about help for energy firms.

Mr Hinds said: “These unnamed sources stories come out from time to time.

“The fact is Government departments, Government ministers talk to each other the whole time and of course with an issue like this, with these rising global prices and business having to grapple and deal with it to make sure they break even and can make a margin of course that is something that the Business Secretary – and, of course, the Energy Secretary – is going to be totally focused on.

“Something that the Treasury, of course, is also very focused on as the economic management department of the nation.”

Labour MP Pat McFadden said ideology “must not get in the way” when the Government is trying to resolve the crisis

The former shadow business secretary told Sky News: “We mustn’t let ideology get in the way because, having supported the economy through the pandemic, it would be tragic now if we stood back and let these key industries go to the wall.

“They’re asking for help and it’s really important that the Treasury and the Business Department stop fighting with one another and get around the table and get to the bottom of what these industries really need.”

Mr McFadden said a price cap for business energy use “could be considered” by Labour but “it might not be the only thing you have to do here”.

“You could look at some of the other costs that the industry has and maybe try and abate those during this current crisis,” he told Sky News.

“There’s more than one way to do this. The important thing is to talk to the industry and try to give them the help they need to get through this, because there are thousands of jobs at stake now, and the long-term costs of letting these industries go to the wall could outweigh the short-term costs of helping them in the here and now.”

Meanwhile, Adam Scorer, chief executive of National Energy Action, told LBC more would also need to be done to protect consumers.

He said the Government would need to “put some more cash in the pockets of the financially vulnerable households”.

He added: “At the moment we’ve got some mechanisms which are there to protect consumers, the price cap, certain rebates, other mechanisms, but they’re for a well-functioning, competitive, energy market. They’re not fit for the challenge of the cost-of-living crisis that we face at the moment.

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