Cost of living: Businesses fear impact of energy squeeze

Business owners in Dereham and Fakenham have been left fearing for their futures as energy bills rise again

Business owners in Dereham and Fakenham have been left fearing for their futures as energy bills rise again - Credit: Archant/Venetia Strangwayes-Booth

Businesses in Dereham and Fakenham have been left doubting their survival after it was announced energy costs are set to skyrocket over the coming months.

Firms said they feared for their futures following Thursday's (February 3) confirmation of increasing prices. 

Energy prices are set to soar later this year as a cap is lifted (file photo)

Households are expected to spend an average of £693 a year more on their energy bills - Credit: PA

From April, millions of households are expected to spend an average £693 more per year on their energy bills. 

It comes after industry regulator Ofgem announced a rise in the cap that limits what companies can charge consumers - which it was obliged to do due to the sharp rise in wholesale gas prices. 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said his package of support - including a repayable £200 energy discount and a £150 council tax rebate - would ease the burden. 

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak delivering his Budget to the House of Commons in London. Pic

Chancellor Rishi Sunak speaking in the House of Commons - Credit: PA

But that has not stopped business owners from worrying about their livelihoods. 

Jacqui O'Donovan, owner of Dereham jewellery shop, Vogue, said she was "absolutely dreading" the size of her forthcoming bills. 

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She added: "We have to light the place. It will be a case of keeping the heating to the bare minimum but, if you've got staff, you have to keep them warm. 

"Since yesterday, I've already got rid of one heater in the shop. 

Jacqui O'Donovan, owner of jewellery shop, Vogue, on Norwich Street in Dereham

Jacqui O'Donovan, owner of Dereham jewellery shop, Vogue - Credit: Archant

"It just seems to be doom and gloom all the time at the moment. We are all trying to smile and keep going and we keep getting batted down again. 

"It is going to have a knock-on effect as well because people will not have spare money in their pockets. I have to keep prices low because it is the type of stock where people will go online instead. 

"This will kill us. There are no two ways about it."

Venetia Strangwayes-Booth, who opened the doors of Venetia’s Yarn Shop in Fakenham back in November 27, highlighted that smaller firms were about to take a significant financial hit. 

Owner of Venetia’s Yarn Shop on Norwich Street in Fakenham, Venetia Strangwayes-Booth.

Venetia Strangwayes-Booth, who runs Venetia’s Yarn Shop in Fakenham - Credit: Aaron McMillan

"I am thanking my lucky stars that I only have five heaters and only light up half the shop," she said.

"But there are other kinds of businesses out there who I am feeling really sorry for. In a way, I am so relieved I gambled on this.

"The energy bills are going to absolutely cripple some small businesses, and not enough is being said about that."

Kay Willmott, who runs a number of businesses in the Dereham area, largely echoed those concerns. 

"We are already paying £200 or £300 more on our bills in the winter compared to summer," said Mrs Willmott. 

The Nook Dereham. Local traders come togther to showcase their work. Kay Willmott, shop owner Pictu

Kay Willmott, who runs various businesses in Dereham - Credit: Brittany Woodman

"With the increase, that is going to be so much more.

Speaking in relation to her beauty salon, Elle Belle's, she added: "Our clients have to be comfortable, so the heating has to go on. 

"It is not just heating as well. We have to use lasers, hairdryers, extra lights. We have to be able to see what we are doing, so the lights need to go on too."

A much-discussed consequence of the soaring cost of living is poorer families having to choose between 'heat or eat'.

Dave Pearson, project director of the Mid-Norfolk Foodbank, said that was a very real prospect.

Mid Norfolk Foodbank project manager Dave Pearson said it has had a significant increase in demand o

Dave Pearson, project director of the Mid-Norfolk Foodbank - Credit: Archant

"Before Christmas, we saw an exponential rise in the number of people coming to us," he explained. "That has levelled off, but we can only wait and see what happens when the fuel cap goes up.

"What I can say is that we are ready for an onslaught. If demand goes through the roof, we have got plenty of food. 

"We have a small budget for fuel where we can give a voucher of up to £50, but we have only got limited funds for that.

"There are so many families who are just one paycheck away from a crisis, and I think a lot of people at the poorer end of the spectrum will be faced with a choice of whether they heat the house or buy food."

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