UK energy security is 'absolute priority' after gas price crisis talks

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said there was no 'cause for immediate concern'

Britain's Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Kwasi Kwarteng, is meeting leading energy suppliers to discuss the rising cost of gas.  Reuters / Peter Nicholls
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The UK came out of crisis talks with energy suppliers on Saturday warning that energy security was “an absolute priority".

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said there was no "cause for immediate concern" over the supply of gas despite warnings from the food industry it was on a "knife-edge".

Gas prices have risen by 70 per cent since the start of the year and Britain's food industry has called on the government to subsidise carbon dioxide (CO2) production or risk the collapse of the country's meat industries.

This week it was announced that two major British fertiliser plants are to shut, stripping food producers of the CO2 by-product that is used to stun animals before slaughter and vacuum-pack food to prolong its shelf life.

"Today, I've held a series of individual meetings with senior executives from the energy industry to discuss the impact of high global gas prices," Mr Kwarteng wrote on Twitter.

"I was reassured that security of supply was not a cause for immediate concern within the industry. The UK benefits from having a diverse range of gas supply sources, with sufficient capacity to more than meet demand.

"The UK's gas system continues to operate reliably and we do not expect supply emergencies this winter."

He said that the country had a diverse range of energy supplies but he would continue to meet industry leaders on Sunday and Monday to discuss what more could be done.

The food industry was the first to say it needed help.

Nick Allen, of the British Meat Processors Association, on Saturday said the pig sector was two weeks away from hitting the buffers, while the British Poultry Council said its members were on a "knife-edge" as suppliers could only guarantee deliveries up to 24 hours in advance.

"Doing nothing is not an option," Mr Allen said. Given the exceptional circumstances, the government needed to either subsidise the power supply to maintain fertiliser production or source CO2 from elsewhere, he said.

British Poultry Council head Richard Griffiths said he was working with the government to assess stock levels and implement contingency plans, but food supply disruption could become a national security issue.

Were slaughterhouses to run out of CO2, pigs and chickens would be left on farms, creating additional animal welfare, food supply and food waste issues, he said.

"We hope this can be avoided through swift government action," he said.

Record energy costs are affecting countries across Europe, leading some nations to impose emergency measures to cap prices.

Experts have said there is a “real risk” gas supplies in Europe could run out.

European gas stocks were left low following extended cold weather last winter.

Dermot Nolan, former head of energy regulator Ofgem, said he expected prices to stay high for up to four months and it was not clear what the government could do to affect market rates.

Mr Kwarteng said: "Ofgem has robust measures in place to ensure that customers do not need to worry, their needs are met, and their gas and electricity supply will continue uninterrupted if a supplier fails."

Updated: September 18, 2021, 8:05 PM