Torridge and West Devon’s holiday parks, hotels, restaurants, pubs, coffee shops and leisure attractions are an important pillar of our local economy.
While it has been heartening to see many rebound from the difficulties caused by long closures and social distancing measures of the pandemic, I know that local enterprises now face a new challenge; the cost of energy.
Many small business owners have written to my office or approached me at my surgeries with their concerns about the rising cost of electricity, and the effect it is likely to have on profitability and even viability.
I have relayed those experiences to my ministerial colleagues at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and I am pleased that decisive action is now being taken.
A new package of support will see energy bills for UK businesses slashed by around half their expected level, from October 1, 2022 to March 31, 2023.
Charities and public sector organisations — such as schools and hospitals — will also receive support, shielding them from crippling costs over the winter. I understand that the scheme will be reviewed after three months, with ministers exploring the possibility of extending further support for the most vulnerable businesses such as our pubs and hospitality businesses.
If you own a local business and are on a fixed price contract agreed after 1 April 2022, a government-backed price cut will automatically be applied to your bill.
You will also see a reduction if you are on a default or variable tariff contract, but you may wish to switch to a new fixed price contract to ensure you receive the most support possible. These discounts will be granted automatically; you do not need to apply.
It is my hope that this substantial assistance will reassure local businesses, giving them a fighting chance through the commercially difficult winter months.
Of course, there is more to be done. The rising wholesale price of gas — fuelled by Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression in Ukraine — has left our energy supply market is in dire need of reform.
Developing a broad energy resilience including nuclear power will be essential to the future prosperity of businesses here in Devon.
I am shortly to meet Western Power Distribution (now National Grid Electricity Distribution) to discuss the implications for local customers of the rapidly expanding renewable energy generation to be located in our region, and I will be keeping a close eye on developments as the Government pushes ahead with its plans in those areas.