James Bennett: Don’t get caught in the cold this winter

Winter heralds many challenges for small businesses. Picture: Michael Gillen
Winter heralds many challenges for small businesses. Picture: Michael Gillen
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Winter is on its way, and while we can’t predict exactly what the weather will bring, there are some useful tactics that businesses can employ to hedge against seasonal cold snaps.

And, for small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular, simple changes can make a big difference.

Before the winter starts in earnest, it’s prudent to take some proactive, preventative steps

James Bennett

Researchers from the Centre for Economics & Business Research (CEBR) analysed data from the Met Office and the Office for National Statistics, and found that periods of very cold weather hit GDP by an average of 0.6 per cent.

That may not sound hugely significant, but it means minimum temperatures just one degree celsius lower than average will take an average £2.5 billion a quarter out of the economy.

Cold weather means more staff calling in sick and transport infrastructure suffers, hitting productivity, while shoppers are also more inclined to stay at home, so demand falls.

READ MORE: A939 closed by snow for first time this winter

Costs also increase, like heating, and a well-heated workspace isn’t just about comfort, it’s also essential to maintain productivity levels and staff morale.

An energy audit is a sensible first step to figure out what could be done to save money and keep your staff and customers warm this winter.

Investigating efficiency

It looks at the equipment and processes that consume energy in a business, as well as its premises, to understand where energy is being used.

An audit can suggest areas where an investment in more modern machinery or changes to practice could permanently reduce energy use, helping smooth out the winter consumption peak.

Smart meters, which replace standard meters, send suppliers meter readings directly and put an end to the hassle of giving your own readings and receiving estimated bills.

We offer a free online tool, Business Energy Insight, which provides personalised information, alerts and energy efficiency tips to our smart meter customers so they can make some simple changes to business practices.

We’ve already installed more than 500,000 smart meters in British businesses, including more than a third of our SME customers, and we want to do more. We are also trialling our smart thermostat, Hive Active Heating, with businesses to help them control their heating and hot water from a mobile app, anywhere and at any time.

Taking proactive steps

Winter weather means there is also a greater potential for things to go wrong. We see calls from businesses needing emergency repair work spike by as much as 60 per cent after the summer ends.

So before the winter starts in earnest, it’s prudent to take some proactive, preventative steps to help ensure your business is not interrupted as a consequence of the cold.

One way to help avoid unpleasant and costly disruptions to your business is to sign up to a service plan to help maintain gas appliances and heating systems. Depending on the type of plan, your appliances can benefit from check-ups to ensure they are working safely and efficiently, and our national network of engineers can help support 24/7.

We are testing intelligent boiler technology and remote diagnostics to help detect faults in boilers. In doing this, we can fix issues before they have a major impact on businesses.

Help with heating

Our research found a typical retailer could see a 40 per cent increase in gas use from autumn to winter, which grows to 63 per cent for an office-based business and 70 per cent for a manufacturer. So if those extra costs are a concern, it’s worth contacting your energy supplier to see if they can help.

At Scottish Gas, we can offer fixed-term payment plans at zero per cent interest for those who need to spread the cost of their payments. We work with organisations like Business Debtline, which is part of the Money Advice Trust, to offer specialist help when it’s needed most.

There are so many ways to stop your business feeling the chill this winter. Don’t get caught out in the cold.

• James Bennett is business service director at Scottish Gas

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