The insurance crisis is continuing to rock small businesses around the area, threatening many jobs and the future of long-established local firms.

At Wessex Roofline, an Ash Vale firm employing 18 people, the annual insurance bill has just shot up from £6,000 to a whopping £30,000.

This means that suddenly Nick Clarke, the owner, had to find an additional £24,000 in order to keep trading - and keep his employees in their jobs.

"It is a big, big problem," he said. "It's a lot of money to find in one year out of the blue."

He suspects that some small to medium size firms may continue operating without cover, which might leave home owners at risk of legal action if there is an accident. He urges homeowners to make sure that firms doing any work have public liability insurance.

His Roofline firm in Lysons Road has been in business for 22 years and has to have insurance covering not only the workers, but the properties they work on.

The firm does some work for housing associations, which are careful to check that all their contractors have insurance cover. The housing bosses insist on evidence and Mr Clarke says he provides them with insurance documents. He says homeowners never ask for proof, but would be wise to do so.

"There is a big divide between companies and the one-man band," he said.

His firm fits maintainence-free fascias, soffits and gutters and the emphasis is on safety. "We are not allowed to use ladders any more. Anything over about two metres, certainly anything over single storey, and you have to use a scaffold."

Mr Clarke says that although the government is looking at the insurance problem, there is no help for anyone this year. "We just have to bite the bullet and pay for it."

He is concerned that Roofline is facing unfair competition from firms which may be uninsured. He says they may quote a lower figure for a job, but might not use scaffolding and might be putting property owners into a legal minefield.

** Anyone else experiencing problems or wishing to air their views on the insurance crisis is welcome to get in touch with us at the Star so that we can continue to keep this important matter in the public eye. Ring us on 01252 316311.