BUSINESSES in Barnsley are doing ‘everything they can’ to stay afloat due to surging energy bills which have quadrupled some premises’ surging monthly costs.
Having started to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic - which saw many hospitality venues close their doors for months on end - the cost-of-living crisis is now becoming another hurdle.
One that’s been hit particularly hard is Birdwell Venue - which specialises in music and entertainment - having seen its electricity bill rocket by nearly £4,000 a month.
Joe Lally, managing director, told the Chronicle he is doing everything to cut down on electric usage after regulator Ofgem hiked the price cap to 80 per cent last Friday.
“Our electricity renewal has come up, which is due in mid-September, and our overall electricity costs have gone up to nearly £5,000 a month,” he said.
“That’s an increase of almost £4,000 - before we were paying around £1,200 a month, which was reasonable for the amount of electricity we use.”
Joe has recently downloaded an app which works out the wattage used per month per item, and can work out what this should cost each month.
He added: “We have cellar coolers and beer coolers, which can’t really be turned off - but they make up between 75 and 80 per cent of the overall bill.
“We’ve done everything we can to cut down on our electricity usage, and to bring that cost down, but it’s just not good enough.
“We’re currently looking at other ways of generating electricity to make it cheaper for us, like using renewable sources like solar power.
“It will be expensive to install, but in the long run we will save a lot more than it will cost.
“We’ve already installed LEDs which will last longer, and use less energy, but we will need to use renewable sources to really make a difference with the costs.”
Hospitality is one of the industries struggling the most with the ongoing issue, which has seen Barnsley MPs urging for a fresh ‘windfall tax’ to be given to super-rich utility companies.
Joe said: “Unfortunately, hospitality settings, like Birdwell Venue, will be the first thing people will give up as the cost-of-living crisis affects them.
“People just won’t be able to spend money on nights out anymore, which of course is going to make things really tricky for us.
“With electricity costs increasing, for people like us to be able to afford to pay that amount, we need to find the money from somewhere, and so unfortunately, we have to put our prices up of everything we sell, like drinks for example.
“But that’s not only being done to help fund our own costs - our suppliers are also struggling with the cost of living crisis and having to up their prices, too.
“For us, this is a major issue because the more prices increase, the more customers we’ll lose because they too will be struggling.
“I’m anxious about the crisis, but I’m confident we will ride through.”
Smaller businesses have also suffered an adverse impact to the crisis with their energy bills increasing, and seeing a decrease in customers.
Old George Coffee House, on Market Hill in Barnsley town centre, has noticed a decline in business at the weekends.
A spokesperson said: “Overall we have definitely noticed a loss in business, with there being less customers than usual.
“Throughout the week isn’t so bad, probably because people are working and come during their work breaks, but when it comes to the weekends, we’ve really noticed a difference.
“There are a lot less customers on weekends compared to what we had at weekends a couple of months ago.
“I think this could maybe be because people aren’t as willing to go out and spend money like they used to because they just don’t have it, like the cost of getting here, as well as spending money, it all adds up and people can’t really afford to be doing that anymore.”
An independent boutique in Barnsley town centre - The Closet Queen on the Victorian Arcade - has also noticed a change in customers’ spending habits.
Shop worker, Emily Fieldsend, added: “I don’t think we will truly know how hard it’s hit us until winter time comes around.
“Right now, we’re still making profit, but I think that’s mainly because of our competitive prices - we’re not like the big fashion shops in shopping centres and city centres - our clothing ranges from £20 to £40, which for a lot of people is really affordable for some good quality items.
“But we have noticed a decline in customers recently, whether that’s because people are away on holiday, schools are starting to go back soon, or if it really is due to people not being able to afford to splash out on a nice new top or something, it’s hard to really say at this point.
“When it comes to bills and stuff, I think at the moment we’re coping aright, but if the loss of customers continues, that’s when we’ll struggle.”