Energy bills more than trebled over last six months, retailers warn

Many businesses will not survive unless extra support provided during energy crisis, committee hears

Challenges facing shops and small businesses such as funding payroll increases and difficulties in finding staff “pale into insignificance” when compared with the crisis caused by the surge in energy costs, an Oireachtas committee hearing has been told.

More Government support is needed or a lot of businesses are not going to be able to survive, the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment was warned during a session headed Discussion on Challenges Facing Small Business.

Most of the members of the Retail Grocery Dairy & Allied Trades Association (RGDATA) have seen their electricity bills more than treble over the last six months, Tara Buckley, director general of the retailers’ representative group, told the committee.

“Annie Timothy from Roscommon can tell you how her normal €6,000 per month electricity bill has climbed to an eye-watering €21,000 over six months,” Ms Buckley said, referring to an RGDATA member who accompanied her to the hearing.


While many of the 3,500 independent, family-owned food retailers that are in the organisation have invested heavily in energy efficiency, “you can’t just turn the fridges off or leave the store in darkness”.

Flora Crowe, of Crowe’s supermarket in Sixmilebridge, Co Clare, said businesses want to pay their bills but simply cannot. “Rural Ireland will die on its feet unless someone steps in and helps us.”

Witnesses told the committee that the Government’s Temporary Business Energy Support Scheme was welcome and appreciated, but needed to be back-dated to before its commencement date of September 1st. Even with the scheme businesses were still facing a severe challenge, they said.

“With the greatest of respect, providing a 40 per cent rebate on bills that are as large as many our members have received still leaves them with an unsustainable and mounting drain on their cash flow,” said Vincent Jennings, chief executive of the Convenience Stores and Newsagents Association (CSNA), whose members employ more than 45,000 people.

“Unless the Government steps in and, at the very least, backdates the scheme, rural Ireland will die on its feet,” said Ms Crowe, a member of CSNA.

Responding to deputy Richard Bruton of Fine Gael, John McGrane, executive director of Family Business Network, said he accepted that “printing free money for energy bills can’t be the solution” but that we “need the patient to still be alive” when the solution is derived.

Mr Bruton said he would rather see businesses being provided with 80 per cent of the cost of retrofitting their outlets so as to reduce their energy costs, rather than providing 80 per cent of the cost of their energy bills, money that would be “burned up every month”.

Payroll costs, owner and public liability insurance premiums, rent and rate levels, and anti-social behaviour were among the challanges facing retailers, said Mr Jennings, but “all of these challenges literally pale into insignificance when compared with the most recent threat: the cost of electricity and gas necessary to run our businesses”.

Mr McGrane said family businesses employed more than one million people, more than the foreign direct investment sector and the State sector combined.

Ms Buckley said RGDATA members employed more than 100,000 and were good employers. However, recent Government measures on matters such as sick pay and pensions had created the “simple conundrum of how these additional costs can be funded at a time of unprecedented challenges”.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent