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An unsustainable budget

Increasing air capacity in the South East, subsidising oil and gas, tearing up rural protection and allowing large corporations off their tax bill are not the hallmarks of a sustainable budget. Simon Leadbetter questions if this really is the best the “greenest ever government” can do.

This budget was always going to be about tax. After the austerity of the spending review in 2010, budget and autumn statement in 2011, George Osborne needed to keep his coalition allies on side by eliminating the tax burden on the lowest paid while reducing tax on the wealthy to appease his true blue backbenchers.

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Increasing air capacity in the South East, subsidising oil and gas, tearing up rural protection and allowing large corporations off their tax bill are not the hallmarks of a sustainable budget. Simon Leadbetter questions if this really is the best the “greenest ever government” can do.

This budget was always going to be about tax. After the austerity of the spending review in 2010, budget and autumn statement in 2011, George Osborne needed to keep his coalition allies on side by eliminating the tax burden on the lowest paid while reducing tax on the wealthy to appease his true blue backbenchers.

Over the next week, the national press, as well as broadcasters and commentators of all stripes will pore over the detail of the budget to calculate the winners and losers in this ‘reforming budget’.

Our key question has always been, ‘is this a sustainable budget?’ Did it give a helping hand to individuals, organisations and companies who are trying to balance the needs of the planet, its people and our future prosperity?

In the plus column, we have a ‘fiscally neutral’ budget. Meaning that if all the sums work and the economy performs as forecast, tweaking the tax and spend will mean we are borrowing as much as we would have done before the budget. It is clearly unsustainable that current generations pass on ever-increasing debts to future generations.

We also have a commitment to review the state pension age “to ensure it keeps pace with increases in longevity.” This is a sensible precautionary measure as the number of people of working age per pensioner falls from 3.2 to 2.9 over the next twenty years. That might sound like a small shift, but as the worker to pensioner ratio falls, the burden on the working age population increases, increasingly so if we cannot achieve full employment.

It somewhat smacks of a 1970s-style industrial policy. Osborne wants to back strategically important industries, such as “aerospace, energy and pharmaceuticals, creative media and science”.

We applaud any innovation that reduces the damage done by high emission air travel, increases the penetration of renewable energy, improves life and public health through medicine or generates income from low pollution creative industries. We also support any policy that moves science to the heart of our economy and national debate. We’re very good at it. As the recent Dimbleby lecture by Sir Paul Nurse stressed “scientific issues are settled by the overall strength of evidence” and we need reason rather than prejudice or dogma to win the day in any debate over climate change and sustainability.

We are pleased that “renewable energy will play a crucial part in Britain’s energy mix” as it should, but wonder where the vague words take us when qualified by need of fiscal as well as environmental sustainability. Nothing fiscal is sustainable without an environment, so we’re not sure where Osborne is coming from here.

It is sensible and clearly ethical to clamp down on ‘morally repugnant’ aggressive tax avoidance loopholes that allow the rate of tax the richest pay to be lower than the rate the poorest pay. When Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Oliver Wendell Holmes, said, “Taxes are what we pay for being a civilised society.” he was right. We need to invest in education to equip our children and young people for the economy to come. We need people to be healthy so they can live fulfilling lives and remain economically active for longer. We need to protect our borders and preserve law and order within them. We also need a safety net to look after those who suffer from personal or wider economic misfortune. Often misattributed to Gandhi, it is still right that a civilisation should be judged on how it treats it weakest.

Rises in fuel duty and air passenger duty are painful but necessary to create a sustainable economy. But there are many more painful decisions to be taken tomorrow, if we do not act to curb our addiction to fossil fuels and inefficient modes of transport today.

On November 24, 2009, then shadow chancellor George Osborne said, “Instead of the Treasury blocking green reform, I want a Conservative Treasury to lead the development of the low carbon economy and finance a green recovery”. Sadly, George is not living up to his pledge and the debit column of this budget is slightly longer than the credits.

The idea that we should expand airport capacity in the South East, increasing the burden on strained infrastructure, precious wildlife and crowded airspace is unsustainable. We desperately need to devolve the burden and economic benefits to regional hubs giving a necessary boost to those areas, while at the same time decreasing domestic flights by increasing high-speed rail and creating a more geographically balanced economy. Locating the Green Investment Bank outside London and Edinburgh as we recommended would have been a sustainable choice in line with these principles.

Pumping billions of subsidies into gas and oil exploration may deliver temporary relief from inexorably rising fuel bills, but entrenches our addiction to fossil fuels at the expense of investment in renewable energy and is, therefore, unsustainable. While the North Sea may well have large reserves of gas and oil buried deep beneath its seabed, it is also a surprisingly windy and wavy place… all of the time. As B&GT has covered before, the Offshore Valuation Group study of 2010 described the North Sea as the ‘Saudi Arabia of the renewables world’. Mr Osborne may well be “alert to the costs we are asking families and businesses to bear” today, but he seems oblivious to the damage that fossil fuel reliance will do tomorrow; in terms of our health through air pollution, our environment through climate change, and our energy security as we continue to build an economy almost solely powered by burning a finite supply of dead animals. And can we really afford a Deepwater Horizon-style spill off the coast of Scotland?

We have previously covered our dismay at planning rule relaxation. Planning rules protect irreplaceable and priceless green spaces on our crowded island. Housing builders are sitting on thousands of plots of brownfield and average value land. No doubt they would prefer to build on higher value greenfield land. But what we really need is increased population density in the towns and cities outside the already crowded South East. Urban areas have a significantly lower carbon footprint than low-rise urban sprawl or rural urbanisation.

We can find no independent evidence that “Global businesses have diverted specific investments … because they couldn’t get planning permission here.” It is a statement that reads more like the press release of a building firm than the thoughts of an impartial Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Ireland’s countryside was ravaged by unregulated development and now bears the scars of relaxed rules. It is a pity we have not learnt the lessons of one of our nearest neighbours.

While addressing aggressive personal tax avoidance is a ‘good thing’, there was no mention of similarly robust approach to the well-catalogued tax avoidance of some of the UK’s leading corporations–Vodafone, Barclays, Tesco, Goldman Sachs to name just four. As Corporation Tax represents just 9% of total Government receipts, reducing the headline level of tax on these large companies when they do not pay the full rate anyway seems perverse.

In summary, we have a budget that answers few of our calls for sustainability. Encouraging more air capacity in the South East, increasing oil and gas dependency, tearing up sixty years of planning protection, and allowing corporations to escape their tax bill all earmark this budget as quite the opposite.

Rather than tinkering with tax allowances and rates, a more fundamental review of how the tax system can build a sustainable future must take place. We agree with Adam Smith that tax should be simple, predictable, support work and be fair. It seems bizarre that there is more focus on taxing earned income (salaries from work) than unearned income (property bubbles and stock market gambling). Adam Smith favoured land tax and luxury goods tax. Alternatively, taxing pollution and waste would be a radically reforming step to encourage the most sustainable behaviour from individuals and businesses; very few, save for those on the more extreme fringe of the debate, have seriously explored how this could work.

Clearly this coalition does not believe we are facing any sort of environmental crisis.

The BBC prepared a ‘budget at a glance’ page shortly before the speech was given with sections such as economy, borrowing, income tax, booze, fags and fuel duties. One section was called ‘Green Measures’. All other categories were slowly filled as Osborne spoke, but, when he sat down, the green measures box was disturbingly empty and then disappeared altogether. It shortly reappeared with a brief review of the Carbon Reduction Commitment. That vanishing box is far more eloquent than anything we could write about the commitment of this coalition administration to be the ‘greenest ever government’.

Yesterday, Osborne said, “Environmentally sustainable must always be fiscally sustainable“, but, in reality, quite the opposite is true; fiscal sustainability must always be environmentally sustainable. This budget falls far short of creating a sustainable economy. It has compromised the needs of the environment and society for a short-term economic boost.

Related links:

Budget statement: what about the environment?

Pre-budget jitters: the last 12 months in brief

A confident budget – a lost opportunity

HM Treasury spending review

A sustainable autumn statement?

Picture source: altogetherfool

Simon Leadbetter is the founder and publisher of Blue & Green Tomorrow. He has held senior roles at Northcliffe, The Daily Telegraph, Santander, Barclaycard, AXA, Prudential and Fidelity. In 2004, he founded a marketing agency that worked amongst others with The Guardian, Vodafone, E.On and Liverpool Victoria. He sold this agency in 2006 and as Chief Marketing Officer for two VC-backed start-ups launched the online platform Cleantech Intelligence (which underpinned the The Guardian’s Cleantech 100) and StrategyEye Cleantech. Most recently, he was Marketing Director of Emap, the UK’s largest B2B publisher, and the founder of Blue & Green Communications Limited.

Features

What Kitchen Suits Your Style? Modern, Classic or Shaker?

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shaker kitchen designs

A kitchen is the centre of the home. Your kitchen ranges between where friends and family gather, talk about their day, cook meals, have drinks, to somewhere you can just enjoy each other’s company. The kitchen is the heart of the home. But, everyone’s lifestyle is different. Everyone’s taste is different. So, you need a kitchen that not only mirrors your lifestyle but matches your taste too. Whilst some prefer a more traditional design, others want a modern feel or flair – and it’s all down to personal taste.

When it comes to redesigning your kitchen, what style would you go for? It’s a difficult one isn’t it. With so many different styles to go for, how can you know exactly what you want until you’ve seen it in action? Leading kitchen designer, Roman Kitchens, based in Essex, have provided three examples of bespoke kitchens and styles they specialise in, accompanied with beautiful images. This design guide will get you one step closer to picking your dream kitchen for your home.

1. Modern

New home in the city centre? Or even a sleek new modern build? You want a trendy and modern kitchen to reflect your city lifestyle. In modern kitchen design, colours are bolder and fresher, with sleek design and utilities that are distinctive and vibrant.

modern kitchen designs

This modern kitchen is sleek and smooth with flawless design and beauty. Minimalism doesn’t stop this kitchen standing out. Featured walls of wood and vibrant mint green draw the eye, whilst the white surfaces reflect the light, illuminating every nook and cranny of this kitchen. This kitchen features products from Rotpunkt, innovators of modern kitchen design. Made with German engineering, a Rotpunkt Kitchen is the ultimate modern addition to your home. Rotpunkt Kitchens have timeless design and amazing functionality, they work for every purpose and are eco-friendly. Sourced from natural materials, a Rotpunkt kitchen uses 37% less timber, conserving natural forests and being more environmentally conscious.

2. Classic

Prefer a homely and traditional feel? Classic kitchens are warm, welcoming and filled with wood. Wood flooring, wood fixtures, wood furniture – you name it! You can bring a rustic feel to your urban home with a classic kitchen. Subtle colours and beautiful finishes, Classic kitchens are for taking it back to the basics with a definitive look and feel.

classic kitchen designs

With stated handles for cupboards, Classic kitchens are effortlessly timeless. They convey an elegant but relaxing nature. Giving off countryside vibes, natural elements convey a British countryside feel. The wood featured in a classic kitchen can range between oaks and walnut, creating a warmth and original feel to your home. Soft English heritage colours add a certain mood to your home, softening the light making it cosier.

3. Shaker

Any kitchen planner will tell you that the meeting point between traditional and modern design, is a Shaker kitchen. They have a distinctive style and innovative feel. Shakers are fresh, mixing different colour tones with stylish wood and vinyl. The most important feature of a Shaker kitchen is functionality – every feature needs to serve a purpose in the kitchen. Paired with stylish and unique furniture, a Shaker kitchen is an ideal addition to any home.

shaker kitchen designs

The ultimate marriage between Classic and Modern kitchens, this Shaker kitchen has deep colour tones with copper emphasis features. All the fittings and fixtures blur the line of modern and tradition, with a Classic look but modern colour vibe. Unique furniture and design make Shaker Kitchens perfect for the middle ground in kitchen design. Minimal but beautifully dressed. Traditional but bold and modern at the same time. Storage solutions are part of the functionality of Shaker kitchens, but don’t detour from conveying yours as a luxury kitchen.

Whatever you choose for your new kitchen, be it Modern, Classic or Shaker – pick whatever suits you. Taste is, and always will be, subjective – it’s down to you.

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Features

Ways Green Preppers Are Trying to Protect their Privacy

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Environmental activists are not given the admiration that they deserve. A recent poll by Gallup found that a whopping 32% of Americans still doubt the existence of global warming. The government’s attitude is even worse.

Many global warming activists and green preppers have raised the alarm bell on climate change over the past few years. Government officials have taken notice and begun tracking their activity online. Even former National Guard officers have admitted that green preppers and climate activists are being targeted for terrorist watchlists.

Of course, the extent of their surveillance depends on the context of activism. People that make benign claims about climate change are unlikely to end up on a watchlist, although it is possible if they make allusions to their disdain of the government. However, even the most pacifistic and well intentioned environmental activists may unwittingly trigger some algorithm and be on the wrong side of a criminal investigation.

How could something like this happen? Here are some possibilities:

  • They could share a post on social media from a climate extremist group or another individual on the climate watchlist.
  • They could overly politicize their social media content, such as being highly critical of the president.
  • They could use figures of speech that may be misinterpreted as threats.
  • They might praise the goals of a climate change extremist organization that as previously resorted to violence, even if they don’t condone the actual means.

Preppers and environmental activists must do everything in their power to protect their privacy. Failing to do so could cost them their reputation, future career opportunities or even their freedom. Here are some ways that they are contacting themselves.

Living Off the Grid and Only Venturing to Civilization for Online Use

The more digital footprints you leave behind, the greater attention you draw. People that hold controversial views on environmentalism or doomsday prepping must minimize their digital paper trail.

Living off the grid is probably the best way to protect your privacy. You can make occasional trips to town to use the Wi-Fi and stock up on supplies.

Know the Surveillance Policies of Public Wi-Fi Providers

Using Wi-Fi away from your home can be a good way to protect your privacy.However, choosing the right public Wi-Fi providers is going to be very important.

Keep in mind that some corporate coffee shops such a Starbucks can store tapes for up to 60 days. Mom and pop businesses don’t have the technology nor the interest to store them that long. They generally store tips for only 24 hours and delete them afterwards. This gives you a good window of opportunity to post your thoughts on climate change without being detected.

Always use a VPN with a No Logging Policy

Using a VPN is one of the best ways to protect your online privacy. However, some of these providers do a much better job than others. What is a VPN and what should you look for when choosing one? Here are some things to look for when making a selection:

  • Make sure they are based in a country that has strict laws on protecting user privacy. VPNs that are based out of Switzerland, Panama for the British Virgin Islands are always good bets.
  • Look for VPN that has a strict no logging policy. Some VPNs will actually track the websites that you visit, which almost entirely defeats the purpose. Most obviously much better than this, but many also track Your connections and logging data. You want to use a VPN that doesn’t keep any logs at all.
  • Try to choose a VPN that has an Internet kill switch. This means that all content will stop serving if your VPN connection drops, which prevents your personal data from leaking out of the VPN tunnel.

You will be much safer if you use a high-quality VPN consistently, especially if you have controversial views on climate related issues or doomsday prepping.

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