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The Independent Online

Season of the switch

The price comparison and switching site has launched a service to help Britain's estimated 4.7 million small businesses obtain a better deal on energy. The move is in response to growing numbers of calls from SMEs keen to cut costs because of the recession. It is claimed the service – – could help SMEs save up to 50 per cent on energy bills.

Businesses can go online or call 0800 051 5343 to get information and a quotation on the best deal for their needs. Just as with households, estimates are based on the company's energy consumption and are given after comparing the latest tariffs provided by a range of energy suppliers and selecting the most competitive rates.

The average SME electricity bill is just over £2,500 per year, while the average gas bill is just over £3,200. Although many owners run their business from home, about 3 million SMEs have stand-alone business premises and may be locked into a contract with a supplier. These contracts come up for regular renewal, but only a third of SMEs check the market before signing their next contract. As a result, they often end up paying too much for their energy.

Crisis? What crisis?

The economic crisis will claim many failures, but there will also be plenty of winners, according to a book from PA Consulting Group. In Surviving and Thriving in the Economic Crisis, Mark Thomas says the key steps to being a winner are maximising liquidity; diverting capital aggressively from poor businesses; and being bold enough to act quickly to pick up the bargains resulting from the demise of your competitors. The losers will be those who fail to secure their liquidity, focus on traditional cost cutting and ignore the bigger picture, or those who miss out on the opportunities.

In most sectors, say PA, there are large numbers of companies whose liquidity is in doubt. Many of these companies won't survive. But for companies whose finances are robust the recession offers once-in-a-lifetime opportunities: weakened competitors will see their share prices fall to levels which make them an attractive acquisition; they may sell their crown jewels to raise cash or they may simply disappear, reducing the over-capacity which exists in so many sectors. High-quality assets will become available at bargain basement prices. Well-positioned companies can achieve a decade's worth of progress in two years.

Green shoots of recovery

Sixty-eight per cent of small businesses believe it is more important than ever for organisations to act sustainably in the current climate, with 56 per cent noting that those organisations that adopt sustainable practices are more likely to succeed, according to BT Business's New Workplace study. Moreover, just under half of the small businesses questioned recognised the associated cost benefits with going green.

Bill Murphy, managing director of BT Business, said: "Sustainability is no longer a luxury for any business, regardless of its size. Improving your processes and tackling your carbon footprint isn't just good for the planet – it also makes business sense." Despite these findings, confusion still surrounds small businesses and sustainability.

In recognition of this challenge, BT Business has launched its own self-assessment tool specifically aimed at small businesses in 2008. BT BEST (Business Environmental Self-assessment Tool) is an online tool that advises small businesses on ways in which they can reduce their energy consumption.