I am delighted that Ed Miliband took time out of his busy schedule to visit us here in Stockton yesterday. We went to meet some local business owners and managers who were keen to share their experiences.
Businesses round here tell me times are tough. Bills are going up and people are working harder to make ends meet. That amounts to a cost of living crisis for people in Stockton South and a threat to our local economy.
Businesses and the Chamber of Commerce repeatedly raise concerns about growing bills, telling me that energy bills are the second largest cost that they face. Some of these businesses shared their staggering stories with Ed.
Ian Stevenson, owner of the Nisa Store on Oxbridge Lane (previously Stevenson of Oxbridge where I once worked), has seen his energy bills soar over recent years. Ian said, “In 2012 it was £28,000 and this year, we reckon it will be about £31,000. It is crippling. We can’t carry the cost of that.”
Energy prices are also a concern for David Fieldhouse, owner of Hair by David on Oxbridge Lane. He said: “Every year they go up and we have to pass those costs on to customers.”
Local businesses are crucial to Stockton South and I won’t see them left out in the cold by this Tory government.
Since David Cameron has been in Downing Street prices have risen faster than wages in 38 out of 39 months and energy bills have gone up by almost £300. When the price of energy increases energy companies pass this on but when it drops consumers don’t see their bills fall.
The problem is David Cameron can’t deal with the cost of living crisis because he stands up for a privileged few, not for ordinary people. While small businesses struggle to get credit, banker’s bonuses are up 82%. We can only tackle the cost of living crisis by building an economy that works for working people.
So I am glad that we had the opportunity to welcome Ed to the area so he could listen to these local businesses in person.
He has announced that Labour will freeze prices until the start of 2017 if Labour wins the next election. And he says we will break up the big energy companies so that we can all get a fair deal.
This will save a typical household £120 and an average business £1,800.
Mr Fieldhouse welcomed the policy: “I think it is a positive thing to hear about the freeze. Anything like that which will help small businesses is as I think we are a forgotten community.”
Ed also discussed Labour's plan to relax small business rates with Shaun and John, the owners of Premier Convenience Store, Oxbridge Lane. A Labour government would scrap the coalition's planned hike in rates for small businesses due in April 2015 and freeze the levy the following year. An £800m tax break delivering an average saving of £450 for 1.5 million small businesses.
But businesses and people round here need help now. So I'm calling on David Cameron to take action and freeze our bills now. And I'm asking local people and businesses to sign my petition today so that the voices of Stockton South are heard loud and clear in Downing Street.
You can sign it at: http://action.labour.org.uk/page/s/david-cameron-freezethatbill