As a green Conservative, I warmly welcome the environmental steps announced by the chancellor in his summer economic update on Wednesday. The government has made a decisive commitment to the green agenda which places the environment at the heart of policymaking for decades to come.
The launch of the “kickstart” jobs scheme and the unveiling of the new apprenticeships scheme provide incentives to our existing green companies to train up young people and, in doing so, greatly boost the UK’s green workforce. However, the chancellor recognises that we must greatly expand the green sector in order for it to become a mainstay of our economy and for us to reap the abundant environmental benefits.
That is exactly why I praise the GBP2bn green homes grant; the GBP1bn to improve the energy efficiency of public sector buildings; and the GBP50m million to pilot the decarbonisation of social housing. This very considerable GBP3bn package will support 140,000 green jobs, save households up to GBP300 a year on their bills, and make more than 650,000 homes more energy efficient. It will cut carbon emissions by more than half a megatonne per year, equivalent to taking 270,000 cars off the road.
I appreciate that many green advocates will feel that these measures could go further. However, that is precisely why this announcement is such good news for our cause. Not so long ago, green matters were peripheral for all the major parties. Now, amid a global pandemic, the green sector is regarded as a core component of our economic recovery rather than as a hindrance to growth. It is important to celebrate how far we have come and acknowledge that this is a very good start. As far as green Conservatives are concerned, this is only the beginning.
I believe that these announcements lay the foundations for further action. The government must invest directly in infrastructure and renewables, and we should look again at the merits of a “green bank”, such as the KfW in Germany, to serve local authorities and businesses across the UK. We must examine the case for issuing a green gilt, which raised EUR22bn in France and can be ring-fenced for green initiatives. A VAT stimulus on energy-saving materials, increasing green procurement, and settling the debate between grants and guarantees for retrofitting homes all need to be considered. We must also steal a march on other countries by backing new innovative technologies such as hydrogen.
At a time when coronavirus has depleted the public purse, the green sector offers job creation which will be fast, sustainable and which will boost the British economy. The green recovery will level up our country by utilising our regional industrial heritage and skills, while positioning UK plc as a world leader in exporting green technology and knowledge.
For all the government’s measures, green recovery can only be achieved if private and public capital work in tandem. We cannot make the green switch overnight. It is absolutely critical that we work with all companies, including fossil fuel firms, to pivot their business model and make use of their existing networks to roll out the required infrastructure.
Furthermore, it is important that we foster the flow of private capital into accelerating the generation of renewable energy, creating sustainable jobs without costing the public purse and without raising energy bills. Interestingly, within investment management there is a growing awareness that economics and the environment are aligning and that being profitable and environmental do in fact go hand in hand. The government can assist this by providing political certainty to the sector and improving the relevant infrastructure.
I am left in no doubt by the chancellor’s statement that a green recovery is not only the right choice for Britain, but our only choice. We can turbocharge our economy, level up across the regions, increase jobs and meet our net zero target by embracing a green way of thinking. These announcements make me proud to be at the forefront of this new brand of conservatism, where blue and green sit side by side.
Alexander Stafford is the Conservative MP for Rother Valley