ED DAVEY, leader of the Liberal Democrats, visited Woking on Tuesday in support of small businesses and their struggles with rising energy costs.

Mr Davey met Mel Hemmings, owner of Bare and Fair, the award-winning zero waste and refill shop in the Peacocks Centre.

They were joined by ward councillor Will Forster, the deputy leader of the Lib Dems on Woking Borough Council and parliamentary candidate for Woking.

Discussions centred on the pressures facing businesses, and covered subjects from business rates being outdated to the increasing energy costs because of a lack of Government support.

Mr Davey’s visit coincided with analysis by his party that small and medium-sized businesses in Woking are facing a £14million energy bill “black hole” now the Government has cut energy bills support.

On April 1, the Government changed business energy bill support from an absolute cap on the price per unit of gas and electricity to a discount on part of the energy bill, say the Lib Dems.

This, they claim, has seen energy support being cut on average by 85%, leaving thousands of businesses “hung out to dry”.

Retailers have previously warned that the cut in energy support could force shops to put up their prices, further raising worries about the impact on the cost-of-living crisis and inflation.

The Federation of Small Businesses has said that up to a quarter of small businesses could close or lay off staff as a result of the cut in support.

Mr Davey is calling for business energy support to be extended for at least another six months to ensure that businesses do not have to increase their prices or close their doors.

He said: “The Government is pulling the rug from underneath thousands of community high streets across the country. Countless shops, pubs and restaurants in Woking will now have little choice than to raise their prices, making the cost-of-living crisis even worse for people.

“The Conservatives have shown they simply don’t understand the needs of businesses. Ministers either just don’t get it or just don’t care, putting thousands of people’s jobs and livelihoods on the line.

“As thousands of Woking’s 
cafe’s, salons and other businesses face an energy black hole, Liberal Democrats are demanding the Government continue energy support to protect millions of businesses across the country.”

Mr Davey noted that Bare and Fair had started in the local market and then opened in a central location, underlining why it is important to protect the high street.

He walked around the shopping centre with Cllr Forster before a planned engagement at the Shah Jahan Mosque to meet the Imam and members of the Angelic Network Asian Women’s group, a grass-roots organisation delivering opportunities, training and community action.