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Hopes that firms could receive major packages of support to weather the energy crisis this winter faded as the Treasury flatly denied having been in talks with the Business Department.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng indicated on Sunday that struggling manufacturers and energy firms will not get much more support but said he is working closely with Chancellor Rishi Sunak to help 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.
Mr Kwarteng said he is certain that the lights will stay on in the UK this winter as businesses warned they may have to reduce working hours to sustain themselves and the Energy UK industry body warned that more suppliers will collapse.
The minister guaranteed he will keep the energy price cap for consumers in place throughout the winter but said he will not “bail out failing energy suppliers”.
Asked if he has approached the Treasury about subsidies, he told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday: “No, I haven’t. We’ve already got subsidies in place and it’s very clear that a lot of those are working.”
Mr Kwarteng said he could not yet determine whether a price cap will be introduced for businesses but added that there have been discussions over “what the nature of that support might be”.
He added that “of course I’m speaking to Government colleagues, particularly in the Treasury, to try and see a way through this”.
Protecting consumers from rising global gas prices is my top priority
The Energy Price Cap is holding back a wave of instant bill increases. It will remain in place, and at the same level, this winter
To date, @Ofgem has moved 1.7m customers to new suppliers
— Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) October 7, 2021
Mr Kwarteng acknowledged it is a “critical situation” but denied he has asked for billions of pounds worth of support when asked whether he is considering a price cap for businesses or a winter package.
He told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show: “I’ve not asked for billions, we’ve got existing schemes. I’m working very closely with Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, to get us through this situation.”
But it was heavily disputed whether the Chancellor or his department have been involved in any talks.
A senior Treasury source bluntly told PA: “The Treasury has not been involved in talks.”
With Boris Johnson having gone on holiday, Labour accused the Government of having “put its out of office on” while “in the teeth of a crisis of its own making”.
Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Bridget Phillipson said: “The Prime Minister has gone on holiday, no one knows where the Chancellor is, and this morning we understand the Business Secretary has entered the realms of fantasy.”
Some Tory MPs are among those calling for additional help for energy-intensive industries, such as steel manufacturing, during the crisis.
Mr Kwarteng faced demands for a “winter package of measures” to prevent further interruptions to supply chains during a meeting with industry representatives on Friday.
We are expecting more retailers to go out of business this winter
Emma Pinchbeck, Energy UK chief executive
Marr put it to Mr Kwarteng that it sounded as though he may give extra help to energy-intensive industries.
But the Cabinet minister replied: “No, that doesn’t sound like yes at all. We already have existing support and we’re looking to see if that’s sufficient to get us through this situation.”
UK Steel director general Gareth Stace warned the Government that a failure to act “may result in long-term damage to the future of the steel industry”.
“Heading into the winter months, increasing prices could result in extended shutdowns, damage to equipment, loss of export opportunities and market share at home, and a loss of talent and employment,” he added.
Energy UK chief executive Emma Pinchbeck warned that “exposed” businesses such as energy-intensive users and retailers will be the worst hit.
“We are expecting more retailers to go out of business this winter,” she told Philips.
“The issue is how many are failing at once and whether or not our mechanisms, which are in place to look after customers when that happens, are up for that many failures in one go.”
Pressed on whether he is absolutely sure the lights will stay on this winter, the Business Secretary replied: “Yes, I am.”