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The BBC's Greg Wood
"These days British industry doesn't carry big stockpiles of anything"
 real 56k

Digby Jones, Director General, CBI
"We are not France"
 real 56k

DG, British Chambers of Commerce, Chris Humphries
"Every business is dependent at being on the road"
 real 28k

Thursday, 14 September, 2000, 12:21 GMT 13:21 UK
Fuel crisis: The cost to business
Protestors
Many businesses sympathise with the protesters
As protesters began to end their oil blockades many businesses across the UK were left reeling from the fuel shortage.

Chris Humphries, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said it would take two weeks for most businesses to recover although in that time some smaller firms could go under.

"Two weeks of lay-offs, two weeks of no supplies, two weeks of no product sales could actually kill some of those smaller businesses," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"I am concerned about the impact on every business but it is the small businesses that have the lower reserves."

Mr Humphries said he had spoken to one Sussex businessman who was set to lose 100,000 a day from Thursday and about 1.4m in the following two weeks.

Website messages

A number of messages have been posted on the BCC website by members of local chambers of commerce detailing problems across a wide range of businesses.

Barnsley Chamber of Commerce reported that 550 people had been laid off at one company alone while the St Helens chamber said 60% of the 310 small and medium-sized firms it had contacted in the past day would shift to short-time or shut down completely by Friday.

The Suffolk chamber said one of its members was short of up to 100,000 cash a week because cheques it expected in the post had been delayed while payments by direct debit were proceeding normally.

In Manchester, the local chamber of commerce said hotel managers had reported revenue down 10% due to cancellations of room and conference bookings.

And a brick manufacturer would soon be unable to supply building sites, causing construction work to grind to a halt and labourers to be sent home, it said.

A steel company employing 120 people in Wolverhampton said it would be forced to end production on Thursday evening and lay off its entire workforce because deliveries and collections had stopped.

250m cost

The London Chamber of Commerce had earlier warned that the fuel crisis was costing businesses up to 250m a day.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said the ending of the blockades was "very good news for business."

On Wednesday, the CBI had said some firms were already scaling back production and laying off staff.


It is clear that large parts of the economy will have ground to a halt by the weekend, unless fuel supplies get through

Digby Jones, CBI
But while many businesses wanted the protests to end, the groundswell of business opinion supported the protesters' call for lower fuel prices.

Output cut

The London Chamber of Commerce estimated that about 10% of the UK's daily output of 2.5bn was being lost by the fuel shortage.

Businesses in London were losing about 50m in daily output.

"The effects are being felt right across the economy with sectors of retail, distribution and freight all being hit extremely hard," Simon Sperryn, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce (LCC) said.

Digby Jones
The CBI's Digby Jones warns of damage to the economy
"It is clear that large parts of the economy will have ground to a halt by the weekend, unless fuel supplies get through," CBI director general Digby Jones said.

The CBI's point is that while it is right that emergency services get the first supplies of fuel, many businesses also provide essential services.

"The private sector provides many essential services and there could be genuine hardship if those services dry up," Mr Jones said.

Sympathy

What is clear is that businesses do sympathise with the protesters' plight.

"Even the ones finding it difficult have sympathy. But at the end of the day they have to find that fuel," a spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses said.

" We have every sympathy but it is not the best way to do it. Now is the time to revert to normal lobbying practice," he added.

George Cox, director general of the Institute of Directors said: "The people carrying out the fuel blockades have made their point. It is a point with which we have every sympathy. But they should now withdraw gracefully and let business get back to normal as soon as possible. If they do not they will see businesses and jobs disappearing literally overnight."

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