Scaffolding boss Graham Tulett is reeling from a 300 percent hike in his insurance premium.

His public liability cost has soared from £1`8,000 last year to a mind-numbing £57,000 this year - even though he has had no claims.

Mr Truett's firm, GT Scaffolding, employs 20 people and his insurance costs have now rocketed from £1500 a month to £1500 a week.

He blames the rise on the lack of competition in the insurance industry.

"There are so few now that they can stitch the prices up. They have a monopoly," he said.

"They can demand what they want. You pay it or get out of business."

He said he hoped the government would act quickly before small firms went out of business, with the loss of many jobs.

The insurance companies, in turn, blame the hikes on "no win no fee" compensation claims, with people winning enormous sums from sympathetic courts.

Mr Tulett says the councils have exacerbated the situation by upping the amount of public liability they require from contractors. Most councils now demand that firms carry £10 million public liability cover.

In three years Mr Tulett's insurance bill has shot from £9,000 for £5 million cover; to £18,000 last year for £10 million cover; to his current bill of £57,000, also for £10 million cover.

"How can they justify that?" he asks.

He also questions whether firms should be expected to carry such a high level of cover at all. "It is ludicrous," he said. "Whatever sum of money you put on a person's life, you can't bring them back."

He also pointed out that the costs would have to be passed on, which would kindle price rises and inflation across the board.