George Osborne has been criticised after delivering a speech light with positive messages for the green economy at the Conservative party conference.
Speaking in Manchester, the chancellor of the exchequer unveiled a flagship ‘help to work’ programme and outlined the government’s plans to freeze fuel duty, but failed to provide certainty for Britain’s thriving green sectors.
He omitted any mention of climate change or renewable energy – despite playing up the roles of shale gas and nuclear energy, and despite warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose latest report says unequivocally that human activity from burning fossil fuels is causing global warming.
The chancellor, however, did commit to a budget surplus – where income exceeds expenditure, essentially putting the UK in the black.
“It should be obvious to anyone that in the years running up to the crash this country should have been running a budget surplus”, Osborne said.
“That’s what we mean when we say they didn’t fix the roof when the sun was shining. Let us never make that same mistake again.”
John Cridland, CBI Director-General, welcomed this part of the chancellor’s speech, saying, “Businesses will be relieved that the chancellor maintained his focus on getting the deficit down and helping all businesses to grow. Ultimately the best way to improve people’s living standards and create more jobs is to get growth back on a sustainable footing.”
Meanwhile Simon Walker, director-general of the Institute of Directors, said, “We welcome the renewed commitment to deficit reduction, and the ambitious aim to generate a surplus in the next parliament.
“The British government has only run a surplus in seven of the last 50 years. Breaking government addiction to debt and achieving a surplus in public finances is the most important ambition any administration can have.”
However, speaking about Osborne’s comments on energy, the CBI’s Cridland added, “Shale gas and nuclear must be part of the UK’s future energy mix but so must renewables. But my message to all politicians is that we have no choice but to invest in a broad range of new energy supply.”
Prior to the speech on Monday, a coalition of investors, including Aviva Investors, WHEB Partners and Triodos Bank, had urged the chancellor to back a decarbonisation target for the power sector. They argued that such a measure was essential to give investors the confidence and safety to put capital into low-carbon projects.
Friends of the Earth’s executive director, Andy Atkins said, “George Osborne said nothing in his speech to demonstrate that he’s acting on last week’s stark scientific warning on climate change. The chancellor seems hell-bent on keeping the UK economy hooked on costly fossil fuels.
“Renewable energy may have avoided its customary savaging from the chancellor, but this won’t placate the major investors that today called on him to firmly back clean power.”
Meanwhile, Greenpeace policy director Doug Parr added, “Osborne called for a “Britain of the future” in his speech– why then is he tying his government to dinosaur industries like nuclear and fossil fuels?”