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Business sec ‘convinced’ UK won’t suffer gas shortage, as Treasury rules out support for firms

The business secretary has said he is “convinced” the UK will not suffer gas shortages in the coming months – and insisted that a price cap on consumers’ energy bills “will not be moved” this winter.

Speaking to the Trevor Phillips On Sunday show, Mr Kwarteng said he was “convinced we will have full energy supply” despite soaring wholesale gas prices around the world – although he stopped short of offering a full guarantee that there would not be disruption.

He went on to claim he was in talks with Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s team on possible further support for businesses facing higher bills – but a Treasury source later told Sky News they are “not involved in any talks” and added that it wasn’t the first time Mr Kwarteng “has made things up in interviews”.

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Image: The energy price cap for consumers ‘will not be moved’ this winter

When asked if the UK would have uninterrupted gas supplies this winter, Mr Kwarteng told Sky News: “I’m as certain as I could be.”

He added: “Because obviously this is a global issue, so we’ve seen right across the world real supply chain pressures, you’ve seen the Chinese have power blackouts, they’re rationing supply. Here in the UK our job is to make sure there is minimal disruption, and I’m very confident.”

The business secretary added: “There are two elements here; one is obviously the global price and I can’t predict, nobody can predict that. But one thing I am responsible for is the resilience of the UK system and, in that, I’m very confident we will be resilient.”

Mr Kwarteng also insisted huge price hikes in wholesale gas would not be wholly passed on to households, as the energy price cap would remain unchanged this winter.

More on Kwasi Kwarteng

“I’ve been very clear about this. The price cap is the biggest shield in terms of consumer prices, and I’ve said repeatedly that it will not be moved,” he added.

“It was set in August for the six-month period between 1 October and 1 April, and it’s not being moved. Many companies during this period have said we should lift the price cap or get rid of it.

“I’ve been very clear that it can’t be moved because it does offer consumers the protection we all need against very, very high upswings in the price.”

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Will the UK have a winter crisis?

Asked if he would advise people to wear another woolly jumper to keep warm this winter, Mr Kwarteng said: “It’s up to people – it’s amazing how different people’s cold thresholds can be very different.

“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.”

Pressed on whether this meant he was telling people to turn down their thermostat and put on more clothing, he said: “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.”

Mr Kwarteng is also facing calls to take immediate action to support energy-intensive industries, amid warnings some sectors could grind to a halt due to soaring prices.

The business secretary said he was “speaking constantly” with industry on their energy needs and pricing, and was “engaging” with the Treasury on the issue.

But he said he had not asked for subsidies for businesses, adding: “We’ve already got subsidies in place, and it’s very clear that a lot of those are working.

“On the consumer side we’ve got an energy price cap and on the industry side we have measures where we support industries, heavy electricity users.

“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.”

However, one Treasury source disputed the business secretary’s suggestion that their department was engaged in talks on supporting industries.

“This is not the first time the BEIS secretary has made things up in interviews,” the source told Sky News. “To be crystal clear the Treasury are not involved in any talks.”

Analysis by Kate McCann, political correspondent

As energy companies fold and businesses cry out for government help over rising gas prices, there is an altogether different row going on inside Whitehall.

In an unprecedented public slap down today, Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, was accused of lying on TV before the same Treasury source revealed the meetings he said he was having over how to sort out the looming industry crisis weren’t happening at all.

This isn’t just embarrassing for the cabinet minister, it reveals a dispute over how to deal with the calls from business which have been splashed across front pages and news bulletins for the last few weeks.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak made clear at the Conservative Party conference that quite enough public money has been spent, now is the time for belt-tightening and grinning through a tough few months.

There is a sense within the Treasury that some industry leaders hear the Treasury is involved in talks and smell an open chequebook, before ramping up their calls for extra cash. It is little wonder they came down so hard on Mr Kwarteng today.

The business secretary, though, is the man who has to sit around the table with these same industry leaders and listen to their dire warnings about factory closures and shortages on the shelves, so it’s not hard to see why he might be pushing for more to be done.

Read Kate’s full analysis here.

Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Bridget Phillipson, accused the government of a “farce” amid the confusion over whether Mr Kwarteng and the Treasury are actually engaged in talks.

“”In the teeth of a crisis of its own making, the government has put its out of office on,” she said.

“The prime minister has gone on holiday, no one knows where the chancellor is, and this morning we understand the business secretary has entered the realms of fantasy.

“The two key government departments responsible for the current cost of living crisis have spent this morning infighting about whether they were in talks with each other. What a farce.”

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Energy UK chief executive Emma Pinchbeck admitted there were worries about the impact of soaring prices on businesses.

“I don’t actually know what the consequences for commercial users will be, though they are more exposed to the prices and they have to buy energy at the price we’re seeing on the market and the same for some of our generators,” she told Sky News.

“I will tell you our members are increasingly worried about those customers, and on top of that I think it’s less clear what will happen to business customers.

“The last thing to say on this is, of course when we say commercial customers, it’s actually quite a big range – that’s everything from your local corner shop through to manufacturers of steel.”

Head of the Unite union, Sharon Graham, said workers “must not pay for this crisis, which is absolutely not of their making, with insecurity and attacks on jobs and pay”.

She added: “Workers and their families are worried sick about their jobs and incomes as we go into winter. I call upon the prime minister to get a grip on this crisis.”

Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds laid the blame for current issues in the energy market on past decisions taken by Conservative ministers.

“The energy crisis has come from complacency, it’s come from the fact the government ‘cut the green cr*p’ and the energy efficiency programme in 2015 was stalled by David Cameron’s government,” he told Sky News.

“The nuclear programme hasn’t proceeded, you haven’t seen onshore wind progress because of the block on government policy that existed.

“And, crucially, energy storage – the enormous gas storage in Rough field in 2017 was closed because the government wanted to save money.”

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