Small firms are pleading for the Government to step in over sky-high energy bills, which have soared by as much as 400 per cent in some cases, leaving many fearing they could be put out of business by the end of the year.
More than half of small companies — 54 per cent — fear their running costs could force them to close, according to a report by SME Insights and insurer Simply Business.
Businesses are not protected by energy watchdog Ofgem’s price cap and they face paying 20 per cent VAT on their energy bills, whereas most ordinary households pay five per cent.
The crippling energy price increases are forcing many of Britain’s remaining pubs, restaurants and high street businesses – which have scraped through lockdown – to reduce their hours, and in some cases, close permanently.
Butcher’s shop T & P. A. Murray in Bristol — known as ‘Murray’s’ to its loyal regulars — closed its doors for the final time this month after 28 years at the premises, which has been occupied by a long line of butchers since the 1800s.
Tom Murray, 65, had planned to leave his beloved business in the safe hands of Nathan Havnes, 32, who joined Murray’s as an apprentice when he was 16.
But supply costs have risen drastically, the price of beef and cheese for the deli counter is up 15 per cent, and the shop’s £11,000 business rates bill is also expected to escalate.
When Mr Martin’s energy supplier raised his annual bill from £7,000 to £22,000, he says it left him with no choice but to close.
‘It was the straw that broke the camel’s back,’ Mr Martin said. ‘We made a £30,000 profit in a good year, but those energy bills would have left us with a loss.
‘Nathan has two sons and the last thing I wanted was to put him in a situation where he would struggle, which could affect his family life.
‘It feels that while there is some support for households, small businesses have just been dropped by local councils and the government,’ he adds.
The story is far from isolated as thousands of small businesses, many of which struggled to survive through the pandemic, are on the verge of collapse due to the cost-of-living crisis.
Last night, experts warned that the energy crisis could ‘shut down’ Britain this winter, leaving high streets devoid of pubs, shops and restaurants.
Lily and Stuart Beaton have also been left with no alternative but to shut up shop. The family-run Ainsty Farm Shop in Green Hammerton, North Yorkshire, which has a butcher, baker and deli, has served its local community for 22 years.
During the pandemic, they boxed up and hand-delivered food to older people in the nearby area who weren’t able to leave their homes.
But when the couple’s gas and electricity deal ends in September, their bills are set to more than triple, from £20,000 to £76,000 a year.
Lily, 52, says: ‘We have no choice but to shut. Myself, my husband and my 18-year-old son Henry all work here full time, so we have basically all lost our jobs.
‘You watch the news and hope that somebody is going to step in and do something about the energy crisis, but nobody has.
‘I think we’ve been overlooked. Most small businesses don’t run on big margins. We realised we would be making a loss once we paid that first bill.
‘We can’t pass on higher costs to our local customers, many of whom are retired. People are going to have to shop at places they can afford.’
And Lily fears other enterprises will be forced to follow in their footsteps.
‘At some point soon, people are going to want to treat themselves to fish and chips or want to pop to the local farm shop, and they won’t be there,’ the mother-of-three adds.