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Jacob Rees Mogg: Galvanises businesses with action on energy

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Westminster unveils energy support for businesses

NON WEDNESDAY, September 21, the UK Government announced new support for households, businesses and public sector organisations facing rising energy bills in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Through a new government Energy Bill Relief Scheme, the government will provide a discount on wholesale gas and electricity prices for all non-domestic customers (including all UK businesses, the voluntary sector like charities and the public sector such as schools and hospitals) whose current gas and electricity prices have been significantly inflated in light of global energy prices.


The support will be equivalent to the Energy Price Guarantee put in place for households.


It will apply to fixed contracts agreed on or after April 1, 2022, and to deemed variable and flexible tariffs and contracts.


The Price Guarantee will apply to energy usage from 1 October 2022 to 31 March 2023, running for an initial six-month period for all non-domestic energy users.


The savings will be first seen in October bills, which are typically received in November.


As with the Energy Price Guarantee for households, customers do not need to take action or apply to the scheme to access the support.


Support (in the form of a p/kWh discount) will automatically be applied to bills.

RISK OF BUSINESSES MISSING OUT

The price reduction level for each business will vary depending on their contract type and circumstances.


Non-domestic customers on existing fixed-price contracts will be eligible for support as long as the contract was agreed on or after April 1, 2022.


Provided that the wholesale element of the price the customer is paying is above the Government Supported Price, per unit energy costs will automatically be reduced by the relevant p/kWh for the duration of the Scheme.


Customers entering new fixed price contracts after October 1 will receive support on the same basis
those on default, deemed, or variable tariffs will receive a per-unit discount on energy costs, up to a maximum of the difference between the Supported Price and the average expected wholesale price over the period of the Scheme.


Non-domestic customers on default or variable tariffs will therefore pay reduced bills, but these will still change over time and may still be subject to price increases.


The government is working with suppliers to ensure all their customers in England, Scotland and Wales are allowed to switch to a fixed contract/tariff for the duration of the scheme if they wish, underpinned by the government’s Energy Bill Relief Scheme support for businesses on flexible purchase contracts, typically some of the largest energy-using businesses.


The government will provide equivalent support for businesses not connected to the gas or electricity grid. Further detail on this will be announced shortly.

SUPPORT MUST AVOID
THE CLIFF EDGE

The government will publish a review of the scheme’s operation in three months to inform decisions on future support after March 2023.


The review will particularly focus on identifying the most vulnerable non-domestic customers and how the government will continue assisting them with energy costs.


Prime Minister Liz Truss said: “I understand the huge pressure businesses, charities, and public sector organisations are facing with their energy bills, which is why we are taking immediate action to support them over the winter and protect jobs and livelihoods.


“As we are doing for consumers, our new scheme will keep their energy bills down from October, providing certainty and peace of mind.


“At the same time, we are boosting Britain’s homegrown energy supply, so we fix the root cause of the issues we are facing and ensure greater energy security for us all.”


Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKHospitality said: “This intervention is unprecedented, and it is extremely welcome that the government has listened to hospitality businesses facing an uncertain winter. ef
“The government has recognised the vulnerability of hospitality as a sector, and we will continue to work with the government, to ensure that there is no cliff edge when these measures fall away.”

SOME BUSINESSES WILL FALL
BETWEEN THE CRACKS, SAYS FSB

Tina McKenzie, Policy and Advocacy Chair, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said: “This announcement will give certainty for the next six months, but a tough year remains ahead of many small firms.


“Many have been waiting for details on the energy bills support package to plan confidently for the winter and beyond, so it’s encouraging to have clarity from the Government on the form that its support will take.


“The next stage will be for small businesses to learn what the changes mean for their current contracts and for any offers they have been looking at.


“Subsidising the unit costs of electricity and gas for six months is welcome, but there are those who miss out from before the six-month period, and help must not result in a cliff-edge afterwards.
“We are calling for a hardship fund to be created for those who fall outside of the current support or for whom the current support will be insufficient.


“There will be hardship for some businesses which signed fixed contracts after prices rose but before April, who find themselves excluded from the scheme.


“FSB calls on energy suppliers to allow those customers to switch without charge to new fixed contracts, covered by the Energy Supported Price if that makes the difference for the small business to survive.


“Small businesses are the definition of vulnerable when it comes to these energy price hikes. Small firms do not have the ability to hedge, or negotiate energy prices, so we will be encouraging Government to continue to help small businesses across all different sectors after the six months have elapsed.”


Ms McKenzie called for common sense and understanding from the energy industry, which will continue to reap massive profits: “Energy companies must play their role to support their small business customers.


“Energy providers must pass on the benefit of the freeze in full and must immediately provide updated bills and quotes to each small business customer who will be wondering today what the changes mean for them.


“We’re concerned that there is no mention of a cap on rises to standing charges, which are the other main element of energy bills. While households’ standing charges will be capped, the same can’t be said for businesses. 

“We call on energy suppliers to support their small business customers by committing to lowering standing charges as far as possible.


“We’d like to see energy companies promise not to disconnect businesses from energy supply that are currently unable to pay for their energy bills this winter and not ask for disproportionate upfront payments.


“Currently, small firms could be disconnected from energy supply if they cannot pay bills after 30 days.
“We will be writing to energy companies in this regard and encourage them to support their small business customers in this difficult period.”

SHORT-TERM FIX FOR
LONG-TERM PROBLEM

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief Policy Director, said: “We welcome the government’s quick and decisive action to provide hard-pressed businesses with a substantial short-term fix to a long-term problem.
“The package will ease worries about otherwise viable businesses shutting up shop, and smaller companies especially will benefit from the discounted rate.


“Businesses will also want to know more about the exit strategy and what happens when the six-month cap runs out. Working closely with businesses will be key to successful implementation.


“The long-run solution is to double-down on energy security and to incentivise firms to push ahead with ambitious energy efficiency programmes to lower demand.”

Business

Another ‘first’ for west Wales brewers Evan Evans

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AWARD-WINNING brewers Evan-Evans will launch the first Welsh zero alcohol cider at the Royal Welsh Show next week.

Blended and bottled in Llandeilo, the zero alcohol drink will be part of the hugely-popular RedHog cider brand.

“We pride ourselves in being an innovative brewery here in Llandeilo and we are delighted to be showcasing the new zero alcohol RedHog at the Royal Welsh in Llanelwedd, Builth Wells,” a company spokesman said today.

“Our RedHog wild cider is already a great hit with consumers. It is a subtle blend of delicious ciders from the Welsh borders. 

“The Buckley family has been brewing since 1767 and there are seven generations of brewing passion and expertise in the heritage of the Evan Evans brewery.

“Down the years, we have earned a reputation for quality beers and ciders. We also boldly go where other brewers fear to tread in developing new products. We get great feedback from our customers and they are hugely influential in telling us what drinks they like.”

The Evan Evans spokesman added: “Our new zero alcohol cider will help appeal to younger drinkers and those who love the taste of a great and refreshing cider.

“We are launching two new zero alcohol flavours – RedHog Medium Dry Zero, and RedHog Summer Fruit Zero.

“There is huge demand for zero alcohol products and we at Evan Evans have spent the last two years perfecting the Reverse Osmosis (RO) process for the dealcoholisation of cider and beers.

“We are the only Welsh company currently using the process. RO gives us the opportunity to retain and build flavours while stripping out the alcohol.

“We have spent a lot of time developing taste profiles, and getting the products right. Too often, the complaint is that zero products lack taste. These ciders are excellent, exciting, and provide a very real alternatives for designated drivers and customers who do not wish to drink alcohol.”

The RedHog zero alcohol drinks will be available from early next week from the brewery Rhosmaen Street, Llandeilo, or Castell Howell Foods in Carmarthen.

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Business

Steel industry faces turning point amid planned blast furnace closures

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THE CLOSURE of the UK’s last remaining blast furnaces has sparked significant debate and concern. As Britain plans to shut down the last blast furnace at Port Talbot and the two still in operation at British Steel in Scunthorpe, many are questioning the implications for the country that invented modern steelmaking.

The transition from traditional blast furnaces, which produce “virgin steel” by melting iron ore with coking coal, to electric arc furnaces (EAFs), which recycle scrap steel using electrical currents, is at the heart of this debate. Virgin steel production is notoriously carbon-intensive, while EAFs offer a more environmentally friendly alternative, aligning with Britain’s net-zero laws.

Critics argue that the UK will become overly dependent on steel imports, which could be problematic in times of international conflict. However, this argument fails to acknowledge that the UK’s virgin steel production is already heavily reliant on imported materials such as iron ore from Sweden, Brazil, and Australia, and coal from various parts of Europe. By shifting to EAFs, the UK would instead use domestic scrap steel, reducing reliance on foreign materials.

It was once true that EAFs could not produce advanced steel grades, but technological advancements have changed this. For instance, the finest grades of steel for aircraft landing gear and nuclear submarines are already produced in UK EAFs. While some argue that certain steel grades still require virgin steel, others in the industry believe EAFs can meet all steel production needs with the right materials.

Tata Steel UK’s plan to replace Port Talbot’s blast furnaces with EAFs could significantly reduce carbon emissions. While there are concerns about the economic and employment implications of this transition, it also presents an opportunity to recycle the 7-8 million tonnes of scrap steel the UK currently exports annually.

Despite these benefits, there is unease about the rapid closure of all UK blast furnaces. This drastic shift may lead to unintended consequences, especially given the high energy costs in the UK. If electric arc steel production proves more expensive, it could drive up the cost of steel, making imports from countries with less environmentally friendly practices more attractive.

Additionally, the UK’s steel strategy appears conservative compared to pioneering efforts in countries like Sweden, where hydrogen DRI plants are being developed, and the US, where electrolysis is being explored for steel production. The UK, once a leader in industrial innovation, risks lagging behind by committing solely to EAFs.

While the closure of the UK’s blast furnaces represents a significant step towards reducing carbon emissions, it also underscores a broader issue: the need for a more ambitious and innovative approach to steelmaking. The country that once spearheaded the Industrial Revolution must now rise to the challenge of leading the next wave of industrial innovation.

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Business

Calls for extra charges for holiday let owners to be relaxed

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A CALL for an update on Pembrokeshire County Council’s position on a potential relaxation of the ‘182-day’ rule, allowing self-catering accommodation to avoid paying a council tax premium is to be heard later this week.

Last year, the rules on holiday lets in Wales changed; Welsh Government criteria saying holiday lets must be filled for 182 days a year – up from a previous 70 – in order to qualify for business rates rather than pay second homes council tax.

In Pembrokeshire, second homes, and self-catering businesses not meeting the criteria, are now paying a 200 per cent council tax premium in the county, effectively a treble rate of council tax.

At the July 18 meeting of full council, a question submitted by leader of the Independent Group, Cllr Huw Murphy will be heard, a follow-up from a previously submitted notice of motion where he had called for a relaxation in the ‘182-day’ rules in the county.

Cllr Murphy will ask: “At full council on October 12, 2023, I submitted a Notice of Motion (NoM) requesting that PCC use its discretionary relief policy regarding the current 182-day occupancy rule for self-catering accommodation and reduce the eligibility criteria to 140 days in support of the tourism industry.

“This NoM was debated by Cabinet on Dec 4, 2023, where it was not adopted but would be reviewed in 12 months following the impact of legislative change where evidence to support potential change to the 182-day occupancy rule will have been gathered.

“Furthermore, Cabinet stated they would write to Welsh Government to highlight concern over the 182-day occupancy rule and to be provided with information on how the current regulations are working both in Pembrokeshire and the rest of Wales, to support a review in 12 months’ time.

“Nine months have elapsed since this NoM was presented to Council in Oct 2023 and seven months since Cabinet debated it with two recommendations and this question is submitted in two parts.

“Can Council be provided with an update of what data has been obtained since Dec 2023 to examine the impact of the 182-day occupancy rule for self-catering properties in advance of a review to be completed by December 2024 prior to any decision over what level of second home council tax to be levied for 2024/25 as it may be necessary to consider a reduction to support an industry under pressure?

“Have PCC received a reply from WG with regards to the concerns raised with regards to the 182-day rule and its impact on the Pembrokeshire tourism industry?”

Cllr Murphy’s questions will be heard at the full council meeting.

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