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Rising cost of energy is a greater concern for small businesses than the potential impact of Brexit, a new study reveals.

The third annual Powering the UK High Street Report, commissioned by Utilita Energy, finds that  SMEs are forced to cut jobs and scale back opening hours to compensate for rising energy bills.

More business owners are worried about the rising cost of energy (50%) than they are about Brexit (44%), according to the independent study.

“The country’s micro-businesses have a lot to contend with in today’s uncertain economy as business rates continue to climb and the power of the pound isn’t what it was – it is concerning that access to energy is such a huge concern for many,” said Bill Bullen, chief executive of Utilita, one of Britain’s largest independent energy suppliers.

Over three-fourth of the small businesses surveyed (77%) said their energy cost rises by at least £100 per year, with one in ten (9%) forking out an additional £500 or more.

Nearly half of micro-businesses (48%) have slashed staff working hours to pay for their energy, and some 39 percent have been forced to make staff redundant to reduce the cost of running their business.

“We commissioned our first annual Powering the High Street report in 2017 as we knew many micro-businesses found it hard and costly to engage with suppliers to find a better deal on energy,” Bullen said.

“We’ve learned 68% of businesses surveyed do believe their provider gives them a fair deal. Let’s hope this is a sign of things to come.”

At the same time, two thirds of micro-businesses (66%) say they are still caught out with unexpected terms and conditions or costs when signing a new energy deal.

Adding to the woes, more than a third (37%) are still asked to make large upfront deposits to secure their supply or are being placed on high tariffs (34%) as they’re seen as a credit risk.

The study surveyed 1,000 micro-businesses in ten regions of the UK, including cafes, pubs, restaurants, hairdressers, convenience stores and other retail outlets.