My Lords, the Government have a number of measures to encourage small and medium-sized businesses to adopt energy-saving measures, including the provision of information, advice and financial support. We are working to establish an energy services development network to promote the energy services market in this sector. We are also working with Business in the Community and the Small Business Consortium to consider what further steps the Government can take, and they will be making their recommendations later in the spring.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, although it seems a little threadbare. Around 20 per cent of our energy is consumed in industrial buildings owned by the SME sector. The Government used to have a good scheme which allowed insulation and other energy-saving measures to be carried out in the sector but that disappeared several years ago. Will they introduce a scheme similar to CERT, which covers domestic dwellings, so that SMEs can play their full part in saving energy in the economy?
My Lords, the noble Lord is right, although we reckon that SMEs are responsible for 26 per cent of business emissions. The scheme to which he refers was very small indeed: my understanding is that between 1994 and 2000 it raised about £5 million to £10 million to help small businesses. However, CERT is having a huge impact on domestic households, and it should be remembered that many SMEs actually operate from domestic premises. The support which we think it is better to focus on is the excellent advice given by the Carbon Trust, which also runs a loan scheme which has proved to be successful, while the enhanced capital allowance scheme is also available to small businesses. We think that that is the best way to provide support for these companies.
My Lords, knowing the Government’s cavalier attitude to consultations I find it baffling that the department has launched four more over the past four weeks. However, the challenges for small and medium-sized businesses in this country are now so urgent that perhaps I may ask the Minister whether he will have a good look at the study which the Conservatives put into the plan for action that is on his table and get the country moving again?
My Lords, I always give Conservative Party documents the attention that they undoubtedly deserve. I am surprised to hear that the Government are thought to be cavalier about consultation when my experience is that we consult until the cows come home. We pay careful attention to what the small business sector says to us and we recognise that in the current circumstances it is coming under very great pressure indeed, which is why the Government have taken the action they have. On energy, however, we want to encourage smaller businesses to look at their energy costs. A lot of advice is available. Many energy-saving measures cost hardly anything at all for businesses to take up. We will do everything we can to encourage small businesses to take advantage of that advice.