Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said he was ‘hopeful’ a deal could be struck with the UK’s biggest carbon dioxide producer, which halted production due to soaring wholesale gas prices
Taxpayers’ cash is set to handed to an American firm to ease the carbon dioxide (CO2) supply crisis as ministers were warned shoppers will see shortages in 10 days.
Industry figures warned that gaps would start appearing in supermarket shelves within days, with chicken and pork production to suffer by the end of this week.
Food and Drink Federation boss Ian Wright warned of a “real crisis” in CO2 supplies, triggered by rising wholesale gas prices which is having a knock-on effect across a number of sectors.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said he was “hopeful” that a deal could be struck within hours with CF Industries, the UK’s biggest CO2 producer, which halted its operations due to a surge in wholesale gas prices.
“We are hopeful that we can get something sorted today and get production up and running in the next few days,” he said.
Mr Kwarteng hinted production could be subsidised so food and drink supplies are not hammered after days of crunch talks with the firm, which has plants in Cheshire and Teesside.
He told the BBC: “We are looking at different ways in which we can provide support. If there is support provided, that will be on a temporary basis. That’s not something we want to do indefinitely.”
He added: “What I am focused on is getting production up and running and I am prepared to look at every solution to get there. Time is of the essence.”
Mr Kwarteng rejected calls to nationalise CF Industries, but admitted: “Between nationalisation and simply doing nothing, there are lots of different options.”
He also said state-backed loans could be given to struggling energy firms to prevent them going bust.
“Any support for those larger companies will be in terms of working capital, will be a loan, it won’t be just a grant, it won’t be just a blank cheque,” said the top Tory.
“It will be something where – if we do have this facility, if we do have this policy – they will be expected to pay back the loans, whereas in the case of a bailout, that’s what it is.
“It’s just a bailout where you grant money, taxpayers’ money, and the taxpayer doesn’t see any return from that.”
Mr Kwarteng admitted families face a difficult winter as rising gas prices were compounded by the looming £20 a week cut to Universal Credit.
FDF chief Ian Wright said potential shortages of CO2 supply were “a real crisis” and warned that “the just-in-time system which underpins both supermarkets and hospitality industry is under the most strain it has ever been in the 40 years it has been there”.
Poultry and pig production will begin to collapse by the end of this week, as well as bakery goods, he said, with meat packaging
Meat packaging is probably only about a week behind, he added.
He said: “We probably have about 10 days before this gets to the point where consumers, shoppers and diners notice that those products are not available.”