Tory minister says leadership contest during energy bill crisis 'hugely regrettable'

No 10 has insisted the government will not announce further support until a new PM takes office. Credit: PA

A Tory minister has admitted the leadership race is "disruptive" at a time when energy bills are soaring.

Matt Warman, minister for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, reiterated the government's stance that no further support measures can be decided until a new prime minister is in office.

But he said it is "hugely regrettable" that the race has gone on for months at such a critical time for the country.

"It was widely said that a leadership contest would be a disruptive process and that is, I think, hugely regrettable," he told ITV News.

"But we are less than a week away from a new prime minister being in post and that means that that detail on that future package of support will be forthcoming."

It comes as the Conservatives have been accused of running a "zombie government" while waiting for Boris Johnson's successor as the cost of living crisis deepens.

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have come under increasing pressure to detail how they will help people get through the toughest winter months, while businesses have warned they will be forced to close if urgent action is not taken.

Six of the UK's biggest pub and brewing companies on Tuesday signed an open letter to ministers urging them to act in order to avoid “real and serious irreversible” damage to the sector.

Businesses, unlike households, operate without a regulated energy price cap - which will surge for households by 80% in October - meaning their bills will be pushed even higher.Some pub owners say their bills have quadrupled or that they're struggling to even find suppliers willing to power their venues when contracts come up for renewal, while one said the cheapest quote it could find was a staggering £62,000 per year.

School leaders have also warned that without more funding, children’s education would be hindered due to redundancies, larger classes and cuts to the curriculum.

Pressed on the pressures businesses and schools are facing, Mr Warman said it was right that the government focuses first on the most vulnerable households - but agreed small businesses need support too.

"We need to make sure there is support that applies in some way to them [small businesses]. That will be for the new prime minister of course to talk about," he said.

"But it would be naive to suggest that businesses are going to be fine when we know that they are affected just as much by those rising energy prices that are driving so much inflation."

The minister said the government will "make sure schools have what they need to pay" spiralling energy bills.

Ms Truss' camp has said she will not finalise her plans for a cost of living package for households until she gets "full support and advice" as prime minister.

The foreign secretary’s team said she is leaning towards targeted support rather than help for all, but maintained she is not “ruling anything out”, while it was also reported she is considering slashing VAT by 5% across the board.

Labour has accused Ms Truss of "flip-flopping" on plans to tackle the crisis, with Labour's Anneliese Dodds saying she is "really concerned that the Conservatives don't seem to have any plan".

The Labour party chair said: "It's incredibly reckless for her to be toying with different options right now.

"People are looking at their bills on their kitchen tables, scratching their heads and thinking how on earth are we going to get this to stack up financially."

"People can't wait until the Conservatives get their house in order," she added.

Ms Truss and Mr Sunak will go head-to-head again in the final official hustings of the Tory leadership race on Wednesday.

The ballot of Conservative Party members closes on Friday, with the winner to be announced next Monday.

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