The Star's campaign to reveal the plight of small firms hit by huge insurance hikes is to be raised in Parliament.

The locally-based Small Business Bureau (SBB) was alerted to the problem after our series of stories and has taken up the campaign.

Now the All-Party Parliamentary Small Business Group is taking soundings, putting together details to send out to its 380 members in both houses of Parliament, asking for their comments. The next stage will be to interview small businessmen who have been hit by big increases. Conclusions will be conveyed to the appropriate minister, and a debate in Parliament may follow.

Meanwhile, the torment goes on for small business people who have to somehow find the money to pay huge premiums to stay in business - and to keep their staff in jobs.

Greedy people milking the legal system in the "compensation culture" are being blamed for the huge rises by some insurance brokers. But some businessmen are laying the blame at the door or the insurance industry itself, saying there is not enough competition.

At Capitol Cleaning Management, a window cleaning business in Ively Road, Farnborough, proprietor Malcolm Cottee was not due to renew his insurance until June, but he was so worried about the massive increases being levied that he called his broker to find out the position.

He has been told that although he had an excellent record and had made no claims, his premium was likely to go up by a minimum of 30%!

"Many colleagues I have spoken to have had to pay double, or in one case four times their premium to retain cover," said Malcolm.

"As a responsible firm, we cannot use ladders for window cleaning and, like many firms, have had to spend thousands of pounds to install machinery and equipment to attain laboratory grade pure water to clean windows safely from the ground.

"We cannot absorb the massive costs such as those quoted by NatWest of £1450 per operative to cover for employee liability insurance. The concern in our industry is that the high cost of insurance will force the closure of many small firms."

He said he knew of two firms which operated for several weeks without insurance cover because they were told at the last minute that their policy would not be renewed or would only continue with a huge increase.

He said: "The insurance companies blame these massive increases on the new disease that has afflicted the British isles, that of ‘Let's sue them and make a claim.' The increasing claims culture is now beginning to actively throw people out of work."

But he blamed a lack of competition in the public liability insurance field for the situation and said that two or three big firms dominated the market. "It's not like, say, the tyre industry, where there are hundreds of firms competing for your business."

He says he will be lucky to be kept on at all as a client, because his insurer, which specialised in insuring window cleaning companies, was pulling out of that market.

Mr Cottee has about a dozen workers who do contract window cleaning over a wide area. In fact they clean our windows at the Star office in Aldershot and he pointed out, tongue in cheek, that our managing director would not be too pleased if our bill suddenly shot up by 30%!

He said: "We're having to absorb this mammoth increase. You can only pass on a cost of living increase to your clients. If you hike the price up too much, they will say they can do without your services."

He knows of one self-employed lady window cleaner whose insurance bill has doubled. "She is carrying on, but there is no incentive."

Meanwhile, one new business has had a £100 a month shock halfway through its first year.

Patrick Kelly and his son Spencer started Kelly Van Hire at Unit 4, White Hart Industrial Estate, Blackwater, last August. They pay £36,000 a year in insurance to cover 12 vans.

Six months into the year they were told they had to pay an extra £100 per month because some of the vans were going to customers who had their own insurance, and for those periods those particular vehicles were removed from the firm's policy.

He said he had difficulty getting any quotes at all when he started up because "it's a bit of a closed shop" and only two companies offered him insurance.

** Give us a ring at the Star on 01252 316311 if your company is affected by the insurance crisis. If you would like to give evidence to the all-party group, ring the SBB on 01276 452010.