No 10 dismisses ‘winter of discontent’ warnings amid energy crisis talks

Downing Street says UK is ‘highly resilient’ and rules out any immediate risk to energy supplies

Last modified on Mon 20 Sep 2021 09.36 EDT

No 10 has brushed off the idea that there could be a winter of discontent with energy and food shortages over Christmas, saying the UK is “highly resilient”.

With the government locked in talks with energy suppliers about rising prices, Boris Johnson’s deputy official spokesman said there was no immediate risk to security of supply.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, will give an update on the government’s plans to tackle the energy crisis in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon.

After meeting suppliers, some of which are struggling to stay afloat, Kwarteng insisted the energy price cap to protect consumers from sharp rises in prices “will remain in place”.

“My task is to ensure that any energy supplier failures cause the least amount of disruption for consumers. Consumers come first. We are looking at options to protect consumers, and meetings continue across government today and this week,” he said.

The high price of gas has forced some CO2 producers to shut down, leading the meat industry to warn that there could be shortages in the coming months because the gas is needed for humane slaughter, stunning, packaging and refrigeration.

However, Johnson’s spokesman insisted the UK would not fall victim to any food shortages, despite poultry producers raising the alarm that there may not be enough turkeys and other meat for Christmas.

“We’ve got a highly resilient food supply chain in the UK, we’ve seen that throughout the pandemic, and we will obviously continue to work with industries that are facing issues to ensure that remains the case,” he said.

“As I’ve just said, we have an incredibly resilient supply chain when it comes to food and we’re well prepared to handle any potential disruptions.”

“It remains the case that we have a highly resilient supply chain and that will remain the case. We will consider any contingency plans as appropriate.”

Downing Street was asked if there was a plan to help CF Industries, the UK’s biggest supplier of CO2, reopen two large fertiliser plants in Teesside and Cheshire – which produce CO2 as a by-product.

The spokesman said: “We have a highly diverse source of supplies but, as I say, Kwasi Kwarteng has spoken to the company involved over the weekend and will consider any contingency plans as appropriate.”

James Cleverly, a Foreign Office minister, also stressed the UK’s resilience when asked about the financial strain that could be caused by the surge in gas prices combined with the effect of the planned cut to universal credit.

He told BBC Breakfast: “The UK economy has shown itself to be resilient. We now have vacancies in the job market, which means employers will have to offer more to fill those vacancies or retain members of staff who might otherwise move to job offers that are out there.

“That will have the good old-fashioned supply-and-demand curves, there’s an increase in demand, that will mean that wages should rise. Ultimately, of course, that is the healthy, sustainable way of making sure that people have good, decent pay packets and that’s through employment.

“It’s absolutely right that we make sure that we match vacancies to people seeking work and watch the natural phenomenon – supply and demand phenomenon – of increasing wages through the UK economy.”

Pushed on whether the universal credit uplift would therefore be kept, he said: “It was always meant to be temporary and it’s really important that temporary measures are temporary because if every single response like an uplift on universal credit had to be permanent it would massively limit the flexibility and agility of governments in dealing with one-off events like the coronavirus pandemic.”

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