Sunak promises more help on energy bills during Ipswich visit – but not yet

Rishi Sunak at Suffolk Food Hall on Monday morning

Rishi Sunak at Suffolk Food Hall on Monday morning - Credit: Zara Farrar - HM treasury

The government is prepared to do more to help with energy bills in the autumn – but Chancellor Rishi Sunak said he cannot make any firm pledges until he knows what the price cap will go up to in October.

Last month the cap went up from about £1,200-a-year for the average home to £1,800 due to rising energy costs. And energy experts have warned that if current trends continue, the cap may rise to £2,900 in October.

During a visit to a small business convention in Ipswich, Mr Sunak accepted the cost-of-living crisis - largely sparked by energy price rises – had been a significant factor in Conservative losses in last week's local elections.

Rishi Sunak's meeting with Suffolk businesses at the Suffolk Food Hall

Rishi Sunak's meeting with Suffolk businesses at the Suffolk Food Hall - Credit: Zara Farrar - HM Treasury

The chancellor, Ipswich MP Tom Hunt and exchequer secretary Helen Whately visit a retailer in Ipswich town centre

The chancellor, Ipswich MP Tom Hunt and exchequer secretary Helen Whately visit a retailer in Ipswich town centre - Credit: Zara Farrar - HM Treasury

He said: "I, of course, acknowledge that the cost of living is preying on people's minds and the prices they are seeing in the shops and that is why the government has acted quite significantly already to provide £9bn of support for energy prices.

"That £150 rebate will be benefiting people as we are speaking here today. The £150 is only part of the package we outlined that totals £350 with a further £200 to come in October.

"This is something Tom Hunt the local MP has also raised with me and he has made me aware of some of the things he has heard from communities here."

Chancellor Rishi Sunak, exchequer secretary Helen Whately and Oliver Paul from Suffolk Food Hall.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak, exchequer secretary Helen Whately and Oliver Paul from Suffolk Food Hall. - Credit: Zara Farrar - HM Treasury

Mr Sunak said energy bills should not change between now and the autumn: "I've always said I'm ready to do more but we have to have a better sense of what prices are likely to be before figuring out what the right response to that is."

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Earlier, Keith Anderson, chief executive of Scottish Power, one of the largest companies in Britain, urged the government to announce a £1,000 cut to all bills from October as the cap is expected to rise again to between £2,500 and £3,000 a year.

Mr Anderson warned that without drastic action 40% of households – 10m homes in Britain – could end up in fuel poverty this winter.

Mr Sunak said: "We shouldn't scare people. What we know now is that prices have gone up by about £700 and of that £350 support is available – that was announced in February – so let us be clear.

"With regard to the future, whoever is talking about it doesn't know because the regulator has not set the price cap for October yet. They do that later this year. They don't know what is happening to prices during the summer."

Mr Sunak was speaking at a Google-sponsored event for small businesses at Ipswich Town Football Club where the company was showing off how it could help companies adjust to the new post-Covid world.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Ronan Harris managing director of Google UK

Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Ronan Harris managing director of Google UK - Credit: GOOGLE

The Chancellor said growing small businesses was the best way for the country to get out of recession.

As well as meeting businesses in Ipswich he has written to two million firms across the country to tell them what help was available from the government.

Google managing director for the UK Ronan Harris said: "The UK’s growing digital economy has created opportunities for record numbers of British businesses to thrive, and we’re committed to helping them make the most of that opportunity as they adapt to a hybrid world.”

Rishi Sunak listens to business people at the meeting at Suffolk Food Hall

Rishi Sunak listens to business people at the meeting at Suffolk Food Hall - Credit: Zara Farrar - HM Treasury

The Ipswich event was the first the company had held in-person since the first lockdown. It is the first of 60 that will be held around the country.

Google also published research showing that 41% of small businesses believe the way their business attracts customers has permanently changed since the pandemic. 

About 35% of small businesses said the pandemic had changed their use of online tools in a significant way and 79% say that digital skills are important or essential to their business today.

But just 4% of small businesses feel that they’re meeting their full potential on digital strategy, and only 3% feel this for online sales and upskilling staff. 

While in Ipswich, the Chancellor also visited Suffolk Food Hall, along with some small independent businesses in the town centre. This included a gift shop, coffee shop and Ukrainian-owned affordable womenswear shop, whose owner is helping the war effort.

The chancellor stop off in Hullabaloo in Ipswich

The chancellor stop off in Hullabaloo in Ipswich - Credit: Zara Farrar - HM treasury