Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, has hinted that a deal could soon be reached with firms over a carbon dioxide shortage, but warned it may come at “some cost” to the taxpayer.
It comes amid alarm that consumers could start noticing shortages in poultry, pork and bakery products within days due to the closure of two UK sites that produce Co2 for British businesses.
Boris Johnson also sought to allay concerns over spiralling costs in wholesale energy prices, insisting on Tuesday the crisis was of a “short-term nature”, with the UK having “very, very good supply chains”.
The rocketing costs in energy price have led to the suspension of operations at the fertiliser plans — which produce Co2 as a by-product — having a knock-on effect on the food industry.
But Mr Kwarteng told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme that he has held talks with the firm, CF Industries, and the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to ensure the production of carbon dioxide is resumed “quickly” and was prepared to “look at every solution”.
Asked whether he was prepared to subside them, he replied: “We are looking at different ways in which we can provide support. I have to say if there is support provided that will be on a temporary basis.”
He added: “Time is of the essence and that’s why I spoke to the CEO, speaking to him twice in the last two days, and we’re hopeful that we can get something sorted today and get the production up and running in the next few days.”
Hinting that taxpayers’ money could be used, the cabinet minister said “it may come at some cost, we’re still hammering out details, we’re still looking at a plan”.
On a trip to New York, Mr Johnson also told the broadcaster the government was “working with the companies to make sure we can keep the supplies gong”.
Echoing Mr Kwarteng’s comments, the prime minister said on the issue of Co2 the government was taking “direct steps”, adding: “You’ll be hearing a bit more about that later on in the day”.
“We’ll do what we can to protect consumers in this interim period, and I want to stress that it is an interim period,” he added.
Earlier, the chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, Ian Wright, told the BBC that consumers could start noticing shortages in poultry, pork and bakery products within days.
“We have been saying for several weeks now that the just-in-time system which underpins both our supermarkets and our hospitality industry is under the most strain it has ever been in the 40 years it has been there,” he said. “It is a real crisis.”
Elsewhere, the cabinet minister Mr Kwarteng also admitted that some families, including those claiming universal credit, would face a “difficult winter” with increased energy bills and a £20-per-week cut to the benefit.
Last night, Labour also warned of a “triple whammy” affecting individuals, alongside the impact of the government’s manifesto-busting decision to hike national insurance from April 2022.
Pushed on the issue of universal credit, Mr Kwarteng told the BBC on Tuesday: “It’s a difficult situation, it could be a very difficult winter.
“That’s why, as energy minister, I’m very focused on helping people that are fuel poor. Universal credit, you will know, is an issue for the chancellor and the work and pensions secretary, I’m speaking to them a great deal about it.”