FT - James Lowman, chairman, ACS

ACS chief executive James Lowman

The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has again called on the government to take meaningful action on support with energy costs for local shops in response to a damning Public Accounts Committee report on the operation of the Energy Bill Relief Scheme and Energy Bill Discount Scheme.

In a report on the government’s energy bills support scheme, the Public Accounts Committee has criticised the Treasury’s understanding of the pressures facing businesses when the Energy Bill Relief Scheme came to an end in April, and has said a government ‘lack of bandwidth’ contributed to more than one million people getting support later than they should have.

On 9 January, the government announced the next phase of its support for businesses with their energy bills for beyond March 2023. The scheme provides a significantly reduced level of support – a per-unit discount on energy bills during the 12-month period from April 2023 to March 2024 of 1.9p per kwh of electricity and 0.6p per kwh of gas.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “We made it very clear to Treasury and Department for Business officials and ministers, and the Chancellor ahead of the Budget in March, that thousands of convenience stores would face acute difficulties with the end of meaningful support on energy bills. This is an ongoing issue that retailers are dealing with right now, so it’s essential that the Treasury looks again at ways to support the businesses that have been hit the hardest by sky-high fixed contracts signed in the second half of 2022.”

Recommendations made in the committee’s report include:

  • Recommendation 4a: The Treasury should, in parallel to its Treasury Minute response, provide details of its analysis of how the changes to business rates, taxes and energy support will affect businesses across different sectors, and outline how it will ensure that businesses will not face a financial cliff edge after March 2023.
  • Recommendation 4b: The department should consider whether Ofgem’s existing role in regulating the non-domestic energy sector is fit for purpose in managing future unexpected events, such as high gas prices, and whether its remit should be extended to create a fair competitive market in this sector. The department should urgently consider rectifying these concerns through the Energy Bill which is currently going through Parliament.