South West firms slam Chancellor’s ‘short-term’ cost of living response

Businesses in the South West have criticised the Government’s response to the cost-of-living crisis as “knee-jerk”, “short-term” and a “sticking plaster on a gaping wound.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a package of measures on Thursday (May 26) aimed at helping firms and their customers struggling with rising utilities bills and operating costs, with inflation currently at a 40-year high.

Among the £15bn worth of support announced by Mr Sunak to MPs in the Commons, was a £400 energy bills discount for every household in the UK from October.

It follows a warning from OfGem’s chief executive the energy regulator is on course to raise its cap on household energy bills to around £2,800 later this year, pushing average annual bills up by £800 a year.

The Chancellor also announced a £650 one-off payment to eight million of the lowest-income households, and a targeted £300 payment to help pensioners getting winter fuel payments and an extra £150 for disabled people.

The policies will be partly paid for by a 25% windfall tax on the profits of oil and gas firms, which have reached record levels as prices of the resources soar amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Nigel Pocklington, chief executive of Wiltshire-based renewable energy supplier Good Energy, described the measures as the “kind of support we and the rest of the energy industry have been calling for since last October”.

He welcomed Mr Sunak’s decision to replace a previously announced £200 energy bill repayment scheme with a £400 grant for customers.

Mr Pockilngton added: “It’s taken time but it’s good that the help is coming for those in need ahead of the crunching deadline of winter.

“However, like the ‘profits levy’ funding it, it is all temporary. Significant funding of energy efficiency could cut £200 off everyone’s bills permanently.”

Mr Pocklington suggested moving policy costs into general tax would be a “fairer and more efficient way” to pay for green investment – and said it would “cost nothing”.

“Putting all the ‘shovel ready’ renewable projects into construction would help lower energy bills next year and beyond. We have seen the short-term problem addressed, but the way out of this energy crisis in the longer-term is with energy efficiency and clean, green home-grown renewables.”

Good Energy chief executive Nigel Pocklington.
Good Energy chief executive Nigel Pocklington.

Dave Kelly, co-founder of Bath-based hospitality events company, Black + White said the announcement from the Chancellor was like “a sticking plaster on a gaping wound”.

“One-off grants are not the long-term thinking we need. The cost of living crisis is hitting working people harder than the pandemic did, but the Government has had its guard down on this one.”

Faye Jones, a fundraising manager at Shepton Mallet-based charity Happy Landings, said since the energy price cap rise in April the number of online donations it has received has “more than halved”. Ms Jones added she was “not sure” the new measures would give people the confidence to start donating again.

Ms Jones said: “One-off payments are of course a help to households, but they don’t provide people with much financial security. If the Government does not do more to ensure the longevity of the charitable sector and recognise the immense value that charities bring to people’s lives, it is ultimately the people in our communities who will suffer when these key services fall away.”

Former professional rugby player Ollie Hayes, who now runs personal trainer business So Fit Bath, said operating a company in the current economic climate had become “far more brutal” than his playing days.

Mr Hayes said: “Yes, the support announced today is a step in the right direction but the whole thing feels very knee-jerk. Everyone has been saying slap a windfall tax on the energy giants for ages so why has it taken so long for the Government to listen?”

Ed Rimmer, chief executive of Bath-based, Time Finance warned predictions of a further rise in insolvencies could “only make matters worse” and create more unemployment.

Ed Rimmer is the chief executive of Time Finance
Ed Rimmer is the chief executive of Time Finance

Mr Rimmer said: “What news of an energy bill cut fails to address is the wider issues in terms of supporting family income and affordability. The Chancellor needs to start addressing ways in which businesses can be supported so they’re in a position to not only sustain their current workforce but to be in a position to increase wage bills and create more opportunities for employment and growth in the wider economy.”

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