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Energy Costs: Support for Businesses

Volume 732: debated on Tuesday 9 May 2023

The energy bills discount scheme will provide all eligible businesses and other non-domestic energy users with a discount on high energy bills for 12 months from 1 April 2023 to 31 March 2024. It will also provide businesses in sectors with particularly high levels of energy use and trade intensity with a high level of support. The scheme will help those locked into contracts signed before recent significant falls in the wholesale price manage their costs and provide others with reassurance against the risk of prices rising again.

Speaking to businesses in my constituency of Edinburgh West over the past week, I have been hearing that they are not finding the help that they need. The combination of the cost of living crisis, energy costs and business rates is pushing them towards a crisis. The Federation of Small Businesses estimates that 93,000 small businesses could go out of business this year because of high energy costs. Do the Government accept that more will have to be done, particularly to help small companies renegotiate tariffs, and will they tell me what they intend to do about that?

The hon. Lady raises an incredibly important point, and this Government are very alive to the issues that businesses face across the country. She will be aware that, last year, the energy bill relief scheme was unprecedented in its nature and scale, and that the Government were always clear that that would be time limited and intended as a bridge for businesses as wholesale gas prices come down. Those prices have now come down quite significantly, but we do have the energy bills discount scheme, which strikes the right balance between supporting businesses for another year, but also limiting the taxpayers’ exposure to volatile energy prices.

The Treasury was quick to act during the pandemic when hoteliers in Aberconwy told me that banks were directing them to their premium lending products instead of the Government’s coronavirus business interruption loan scheme. Now those same hoteliers are telling me that the energy supply market seems to have failed. They are seeing their bills tripling just as market rates drop below Government support levels. They fear that the supplier’s thumb is on their side of the scales. None of this will be new to the Minister, so can he please tell me what he is doing and can he meet me and sector representatives to make sure that some common sense is brought back to energy supply contracts?

My hon. Friend is a great champion of businesses in his constituency. In the first instance, I advise businesses always to contact suppliers to discuss their contracts. We are alive to the fact that some businesses are having difficulties securing the benefit of falling wholesale prices from their energy suppliers. In January, the Chancellor wrote to Ofgem, which oversees the energy market for consumers, and Ofgem has now launched an investigation into the non-domestic energy market. We await its conclusions, and, at that point, I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend.