Leading business organisations sounded a warning today that looming hikes in electricity and gas prices would hit Northern Ireland’s competitiveness.
Both NIE Energy and Phoneix Natural Gas are expected this week to announce significant tariff increases, to take effect on October 1.
CBI Northern Ireland director Nigel Smyth said the increases would have an impact on businesses across the province.
He said: “Price hikes of this magnitude are not welcome, but in this case cannot be avoided. Northern Ireland needs to start planning now for much greater use of renewable energy sources in the future.”
Paul Givan of the Federation of Small Businesses said: “The ever increasing cost of energy is putting untold pressure on Northern Ireland’s small business community and severely reducing their competitiveness with much larger multi-nationals.
“We would implore the utility regulator to ensure that these increases are justified and that the additional costs shared by all, including the provider.”
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, said the hike in electricity prices and increase in fuel costs were combining to make it harder and harder for his members to run their businesses and provide competitive prices.
He said: "The UK Government should reduce fuel duty to ease the burden on business and consumers and the Department of Finance should introduce a small business rates relief scheme.”
Richard Ramsey, the Ulster Bank economist, said that the Varney Report had noted that SMEs here already faced electricity costs which were 21% higher than in Britain, while the cost premium for large companies was 5% more.
He said: “Firms need to be more innovative in their approach to cost control and removing uncertainty from their day to day business.
“In today's high cost environment, improving efficiency and reducing waste is more important than ever.”