Soaring energy costs are top of the list of worries confronting West Midland companies, according to business leaders.

But at the same time, the strength of the economy means that companies are better placed to absorb or pass on the increases than ten years ago, said Chris Clifford, West Midlands regional director of the CBI.

Speaking after a meeting of the CBI regional council yesterday , Mr Clifford said: "There is still some gloom around in certain sections of manufacturing.

"But one of the main talking points was the impact of energy price rises on businesses, particularly heavy users of gas and electricity.

"In some cases costs have risen by 300 per cent over the last 12 months."

Soaring petrol and diesel prices have also had a serious impact.

"Fortunately, never have we had an economy in such a robust state, which means companies are better placed to withstand the rises.

"If it had happened ten years ago we would have been screaming from the roof tops.

"The rises have had an impact on margins but have not stopped us in our tracks."

Companies represented at yesterday's regional council meeting also said they were concerned about the growing skills shortage in the West Midlands.

"One of our members in the environmental sector said they are finding it extremely difficult to get hold of skilled people," Mr Clifford said. The problem was flagged up ahead of a CBI conference on training and skills tomorrow.

The conference, to be staged at South Birmingham College, will focus on the provision of training.

CBI director-general Sir Digby Jones and Skills Minister Phil Hope will be among the speakers.