by Pat Kane
The most notable element of the Budget for me was the announcment of green investment bank, able to invest in new sustainable technologies and businesses where returns are too risky for the open markets.
It’s been long called for – and it was clearly a prize demanded by the Liberal Democrats as a price of Coalition. But it’s a weak entity: access to £3billion funds seems considerable, but compared to the kind of infrastructure revolution that a low-carbon economy and society needs, it’s a very small budget indeed (and the bank won’t be able to borrow for five years). Couldn’t a few of the government’s largely nationalised banks – Northern Rock and RBS – be largely directed towards building this infrastructure, at a far greater scale than this institution could manage?
I also wonder whether the blizzard of measures aimed at supporting start-up business creation, and external investment from foreign business, undercuts their own aim to be the “most green government ever”. To what extent does a “bonfire of regulations” imply exempting start-up enterprises from detailed considerations of the energy resources they’re putting through their services and products? The world’s first price floor for carbon sounds like a step in the right direction, in making us realise the real cost of dirty energy generation – but it’s the nuclear industry in the UK who welcome this most, as it will make their economic case much stronger. And of course, Britain’s “hard-pressed families” will benefit from their petrol-duty being cut, but it does the opposite of discouraging carbon-intensive car usage.
I noted at the end how much Osborne is returning to the enterprise fundamentals of heyday Thatcherism – the “march of the makers”, coming through new industrial and academic development zones, that will deliver the perpetually sought-for “growth”. But these climate-critical days, growth simply can’t be incanted like a magic spell. “Makers” aren’t just smart young boys coming up with Google-competitors in Shoreditch or Oxford. These days, below the to-and-fro of despatch boxes, I look to governments who get the whole challenge of moving towards environmentally-sustainable societies (which I think, incidentally, the Scottish government does get) . Perhaps no surprise that the “Stupid Party” didn’t join up the dots any better than expected.
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