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Spending review: ‘reform, growth and fairness’ (but still unsustainable)



Savings or cuts of £11.5 billion were announced today for the spending period 2015/2016. With the lowest interest rates in history, spare capacity in the economy, creaking infrastructure and choked-off demand, the chancellor George Osborne sticks to plan A.

Big numbers are always hard to comprehend but £11.5 billion is the equivalent to the salaries of 434,000 average salaries. Or 183 Bob Diamonds.

The economy may or may not be moving out of intensive care into recovery as Osborne claims, but our ecology is rapidly moving through intensive care into a hospice.

We applaud the “largest investment in railways since Victorian age” and the green lighting to HS2. Crossrail is a sensible infrastructure project and it is good to hear the support the government is giving for Crossrail 2 to the tune of £9 billion. This is sustainable.

We cannot support road expansion. More roads mean more congestion and more congestion means more pollution. This is unsustainable.

It is a rare event for Osborne to mention spending on renewables and clean energy without sneering, but he always balances it with a commitment to our nation’s addiction to dirty fossil fuels. The tax subsidies for oil and gas continue apace. Exploiting shale gas is an unproven, high risk, environmentally damaging and unnecessary development. This is unsustainable.

The civil nuclear programme may seem like a quick, clean fix to the coming energy shortages, but as has been consistently demonstrated, the costs of cleaning up nuclear waste always grow. This is also a green light to other countries to develop aggressively their civilian nuclear programme. This is unsustainable.

His ambition to create “energy of the future at the price we can afford” underestimates the heavy price of climate change from continuing to burn fossil fuels. We will certainly need the flood defences that Osborne has committed to invest in. He does not recognise the clear and present danger of climate change if he can cut the budget to DECC by 8%. This is unsustainable.

In his speech, Osborne made a great play of Britain’s science and innovation, but he fails to grasp the fundamentals of climate science and our strength in renewables and cleantech. The £4.6 billion investment is welcome, but the lack of joined-up thinking between climate science, energy policy and transport policy is unsustainable.

Blue & Green Tomorrow’s test is, as ever, does this review make sense in terms of sustainability. Ecological concerns may seem uneconomic to George Osborne, but his economic position remains unecologic.

Further reading:

The budget speech we want to see

Myopic budget threatens UK’s long-term prosperity

Britons want government to tackle climate change and grow economy

Coalition’s green fatigue is a ‘betrayal of conservatism itself’

We need a credible green innovation growth strategy

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.


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