RENT, business rates, wages, stock. These are just a few of the rising costs facing business owners in Southampton.

But a new scheme being rolled out by the city council could see 900 businesses save up to 56 per cent on their energy bills.

By working alongside Lumina, an energypurchasing company run by Kent County Council, the council hopes many small and medium-sized businesses will be able to save hundreds of pounds on their gas and electricity bills.

The city council is part of a consortium of authorities which buy their energy through the Laser group, an energy purchasing firm which is run by Kent County Council.

Laser’s experts research the best energy deals available and buy in bulk for all 118 authorities which are signed up.

Hampshire County Council and Hampshire Constabulary are also members.

And Kent County Council has recently launched Lumina, a sister company to Laser, to save money for small and medium-sized businesses.

Now that an agreement has been reached between the two councils, Lumina staff will contact businesses in Southampton to record the end of their current contract date, and then phone them at the end of their contracts.

Lumina will then carry out market comparisons and find the best rates, although the business does not have to sign up for it.

If they decide to go ahead with the contract the supplier will pay Lumina for the customer’s business. The free-of-charge scheme is currently being run in Kent, and in the London Borough of Camden.

Although the average saving for businesses is between 10 and 30 per cent, some have saved as much as 56 per cent.

The owners of Frederic’s Cafe in Maidstone saved 36.5 per cent – £2,448 – by changing their electricity supplier through Lumina.

Stephen Neofytou, who owns the High Street Cafe in Southampton, is one of the hundreds of business owner who will receive calls from Lumina later this year.

He said: “I think it’s definitely good for businesses in the city, I’m all for saving money.

“It would make a big difference to businesses in the city, because a lot of us are struggling.”

Simon Letts, Southampton City Council’s executive member for resources, said: “We have used the buying power of our local government consortium to drive down our own energy costs and save taxpayers money.

“I am delighted to bring forward a scheme which will allow Southampton businesses to make similar savings on their energy costs.

“We are committed to doing all we can to help our local business community and make Southampton a great place to invest.”

Jimmy Chestnutt, chief executive of the Hampshire Chamber of Commerce, has welcomed the new initiative.

He said: “There are a number of schemes around that offer a similar service including one operated by the chamber of commerce for its members but any opportunity to increase competitiveness and reduce the cost to business must be supported.”

Hampshire County Council is currently also looking into offering Lumina’s services to businesses.

A spokesman said: “The county council is looking at the potential.”