UK businesses lay most blame for soaring fuel costs on the government but are doing little to cut their energy bills or carbon dioxide emissions, according to an authoritative unpublished study.
The survey by Datamonitor, the consulting and market research company, also shows that business does not share the government's enthusiasm for renewable energy sources and remains lukewarm towards nuclear power.
The study, the biggest of its kind involving 3,500 businesses, will make uncomfortable reading for Tony Blair, the prime minister, who has promised a review of energy policy next year to achieve the government's goals of cutting greenhouse gas emissions while ensuring secure, affordable energy supplies.
The government's strategy is based on improved energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources, allied to the expected replacement of Britain's ageing nuclear power stations.
Will Keast-Butler, the study's author and Datamonitor's director of research and analysis, said: “The survey shows that the market is not delivering on the government's environmental obligations and that energy buyers are apathetic to nuclear power as the solution.”
The businesses blamed everyone from regulators to producers for high and volatile energy prices, with the government seen as the chief culprit, Datamonitor said. A third of those surveyed held the government chiefly to blame.
Geopolitics and market forces were mentioned by fewer than 10 per cent as the cause of higher energy costs, in spite of recent efforts by Gordon Brown, chancellor, to blame higher prices on the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, the cartel that supplies 40 per cent of the world's oil.
The survey found that the government's energy efficiency drive had produced only superficial results. Even if all the businesses' own energy conservation targets had been met, their total energy bill would have fallen by just 1 per cent this year.
The research suggests business does not fully endorse the government's goal of generating 10 per cent of UK electricity needs from renewable sources, such as solar, wind and biomass, by 2010. Businesses in the survey aimed to source only 5 per cent of their energy from renewables.
The study covered businesses ranging in size from a fish shop spending £5,000 a year on energy to big industrial users with energy budgets worth tens of millions of pounds.
On power, the government's recent public relations efforts to prepare for a possible nuclear renaissance seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.
In Finland and France, big energy users can sign long-term contracts tied to nuclear power. When asked whether they would want to do the same, thereby securing competitive rates, 12-13 per cent of the biggest power users among Britain's businesses said they would rule out the option.
On average, big businesses in the survey were ambivalent towards the nuclear option.
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