With no equivalent of the consumer price cap to shelter from the worst of the storm, UK businesses and smaller firms in particular have been left defenceless against the energy bill crisis that financial expert Martin Lewis has described as on par with the Covid pandemic.

UK gas prices trebled throughout 2021 and have doubled again since the start of this year, meaning that businesses which last renewed their supply contracts two years ago are facing a five-fold increase as they begin to re-negotiate this autumn. Those renewing an annual contract are due to see bills twice what they paid this year.

If that weren’t enough, current futures market curves suggest a further 40 per cent increase by December. Independent consultancy Cornwall Insights said earlier this month that wholesale prices are unlikely to return to 2020 levels until 2030.

No great surprise then that a survey published yesterday by Simply Business, a provider of insurance to SMEs, found more than half of small firms cited rising fuel and energy costs as one of their greatest threats to survival.

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The UK’s SME sector – which in Scotland accounts for about 40% of employment and roughly half of turnover generated by the private sector – lost an eye-watering £126.6 billion during the pandemic. And now, according to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), costs are at a record high for 89% of small firms.

Small businesses don’t have the benefit of consumer protections, nor do they have the negotiating power normally enjoyed by their larger counterparts. Yet according to reports, energy suppliers are backing away from heavy power users for fear that wafer-thin profit margins on contracts to larger customers could be wiped out by volatile wholesale prices.

Intensive energy users are already cutting back. US fertiliser giant CF Industries temporarily closed two UK plants in response rising gas prices in September of last year, and has since announced that one of them near Chester will close for good, leading to the loss of 280 jobs.

Even those who can afford far heftier bills may not be able to get what they desire. The Government has drawn up contingency plans to impose blackouts on both industry and households under its “reasonable worst-case scenario” but has also said this is “not something we expect to happen”.

No matter which way you cut it, businesses are facing a steep uphill battle this winter that will undoubtedly have knock-on effects for jobs.