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Call for Closed Account Energy Cash to Fund Subsidised Advice for Small Firms

26/02/2015 14:48 GMT | Updated 27/04/2015 10:59 BST

The big six energy firms have £204million held in closed business accounts and so far, no decisions have been made as to what to do with it.

Ofgem says there needs to be action, and if it can't be all be reunited with account holders, then something should be done that benefits the wider community.

We are asking for a portion of the cash to be invested into a national Enterprise Voucher scheme aimed at improving online competency, global trading skills and increase the proportion of blue chip contracts secured by small British businesses.

We know there is a massive shortfall in digital skills amongst small business owners. Studies suggest that while Britons are leading the way as outstanding e-commerce customers, around 50 per cent of home-grown businesses still don't have a website.

Small firms are crying out for advice on how to take the guess work out of global trading, how to take advantage of the increasing number of contracts open for tender from big business and Government that we're always hearing about, whilst increasing their workforce and volume.

Meanwhile, here we have the big six energy companies sitting on cash that's crying out for a worthy cause exactly like this. We'd like to see what's left of the funds that cannot be reunited with defunct business accounts, to be used to support small firms as they look to grow, offering financial support to fund digital resources, global trading skills and important strategic advice that can help smaller firms compete for bigger, transformative contracts.

This way the money will be put to good use - and small firms across the country, as well as the British economy, will benefit.

Energy regulator OFGEM announced an investigation had uncovered £204m in non-domestic closed accounts and another £200m in domestic accounts last year, and asked the six energy suppliers to either reunite the cash with its owners - or find a way to channel the stash to benefit others.

We'd like to see the advice element of the Enterprise Vouchers delivered via the already-established Growth Vouchers marketplace, which has 11,000 advisers already in place. Although the £30m Government scheme is set to close next month when funding is withdrawn, the network claims a proportion of the energy cash could build on the early-stage work of the initiative.

The Enterprise Vouchers would supply a match-funded subsidy of up to £2,000 per business for a programme of strategic advice and planning.

The Growth Vouchers initiative is set to be cut off in its prime next month just as it was gaining the momentum it needed to make a difference to Britain's flourishing small business community. We'd like to extend it, improve it and make it accessible to every business that needs support to grow.

The Ofgem report emerged after the regulator examined the accounts of the big six firms, with a particular focus on finding out what happened to residual monies left in accounts once an account had been closed as more people shopped around to get a better energy supply deal.

The authority found that in fact the cash merely stayed dormant in the accounts.

Andrew Wright, interim chief executive of Ofgem, said 12 month ago that the authority wanted to see ' decisive action by suppliers, individually and collectively, to address this issue' and 'wherever possible, to ensure that the balances they currently hold are returned to consumers. Where this can't be done any remaining sums should be used to benefit consumers more generally.'

Read more about what we think should happen to the energy money here