The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has suggested struggling energy and manufacturing companies will not get much more support from the Treasury, saying he was liaising with the chancellor but did not expect billions more in subsidies.
In interviews on Sunday, Kwarteng said the price cap on consumers’ energy bills “will not be moved” this winter and said the UK’s energy supply was secure, though he would not rule out potential disruptions.
It came as the chief executive of Energy UK said more companies were expected to go out of business this winter due to rising gas prices. Emma Pinchbeck told Sky News’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme that energy-intensive users and retailers would suffer unaffordable costs.
She said: “We are expecting more retailers to go out of business this winter. We had around 50 suppliers when we started, and we’re expecting to see more leave the market … The issue is how many are failing at once and whether or not our mechanisms, which are in place to look after customers when that happens, are up for that many failures in one go.”
The Sunday Times reported that Kwarteng was preparing to ask the chancellor for billions for a manufacturing industry bailout, for steel, ceramics, chemical and glass companies who are facing having the halt production.
The companies are reported to have requested potential subsidies, as well as putting forward suggestions for a cap on gas prices.
Kwarteng said he had not asked for significant further support from the Treasury. “I’ve not asked for billions. We’ve got existing schemes, I’m working very closely with Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, to get us through this situation,” he said. “I’ve been very clear we’re not going to bail out failing energy suppliers.”
Kwarteng hinted help could come for some industries that were extremely energy-intensive, such as steel production, saying he was “looking to find a solution”.
But speaking on the BBC, where he was asked if it was definitive that those industries would get more support, Kwarteng said: “No … we already have existing support and we’re looking to see if that’s sufficient to get us through this situation.”
Kwarteng told Sky it was clear some businesses did need short-term help. “What I’m very clear about is we need to help them get through this situation – it’s a difficult situation, gas prices, electricity prices are at very high levels right across the world and of course I’m speaking to government colleagues particularly in the Treasury to try and see a way through this,” he said.
“I can’t come on your programme and say we’re going to have a price cap because we’re trying to work out what the nature of that support might be.”
Pinchbeck said the government could be forced into a situation where more support was necessary. “There may need to be an intervention, there have been interventions in other markets,” she said. “There have been all kinds of things, different markets have done it differently – they’ve looked after their retailers, they’ve done extra support for their energy intensive users or commercial customers or generators.
“For us in the energy industry the thing we’re still very worried about is domestic retail, I think that’s where we’ll see more failures in the coming weeks and what we do about the costs of that for individual consumers paying their bills.”
Kwarteng said he believed the lights would not go out this winter and said he would not give advice on the personal precautions people should take to save money on energy bills.
“Some people feel comfortable wrapped up in lots of different clothes, others wear relatively little – I think people should be sensible. I think people should do what they feel comfortable with,” he told Sky. “My job as an energy minister is not to tell people how many layers of clothing they should wear, that’s not really my job.”