With his boss away on holiday, a more daring chancellor than Alistair Darling would currently be casting around for a headline grabbing pronouncement or two with which to mark his week in the Downing Street hot seat.
As luck would have it the British Retail Consortium (BRC) managed to give him just what he should have been looking for yesterday in the form of a letter to the chancellor calling on him to scrap VAT on green and energy saving products.
In one swoop the chancellor could, if he so chose, do more for the UK's carbon footprint and green businesses sector than all the transition plans, incentive schemes and R&D funds put together - providing a sizable fillip to the economy in the process.
What's more, the returning prime minister could hardly complain too long and loud (not in public at least) as it was kind of his idea in the first place.
Back in his final budget as chancellor in 2007, Gordon Brown said that he would write to his counterparts across the EU urging them to cut VAT on energy efficient products. He then revisited the topic in early 2008 teaming up with French President Nicholas Sarkozy to call on other EU leaders to back VAT cuts for green products.
Then, like so many of the prime ministers good intentions, the idea drifted into the political ether never to be spoken of again.
But why was this proposal allowed to die? And what is there to stop the Chancellor resuscitating it?
As the BRC observed scrapping VAT on green products would slash carbon emissions by 1.3 million tonnes a year by 2020 and would also spark a clean tech arms race between companies as they battle to ensure their products qualify for zero rate VAT. Perhaps more importantly, such a move would eradicate the price premium that is typically associated with many green products, removing the last excuse many businesses and consumers use to avoid buying sustainable products.
The Treasury has argued that it cannot make changes without the approval of other EU member states, but this is not strictly true. Under EU rules it cannot unilaterally scrap VAT on a product, but it can slash rates to as low as five per cent and it certainly had no problem cutting the standard rate from 17.5 to 15 per cent last autumn as part of its economic recovery plan.
There are also plenty of precedents. A quick glance down the list of goods and services that are either exempt from VAT or subject to the reduced rate of five per cent reveals that with the exception of gambling virtually every product or service can be judged to be in the public interest - an argument that could easily be extended to green products.
Donations to charities or charges for cultural events, for example, are VAT free, while newspapers, books, certain food stuffs, sports activities and children's clothes are all famously zero-rated. More pertinently for the campaign for lower rates of VAT for green products, a raft of renewable energy and energy efficient products, including solar panels, combined heat and power units and energy saving materials installed in residential or charitable properties, face only a five per cent VAT rate.
The argument that we would need to act in harmony with our European neighbours to extend this five per cent rate to other energy efficient products is a political fig leaf of microscopic proportions.
Concerns that implementing an effective VAT cut on green products could prove difficult are slightly more valid. Any cuts would have to be backed up by a robust and continuously updated system for rating new products and services and ensuring only the greenest, most energy efficient products qualify for the five per cent rate. But while this would undoubtedly be challenging there are plenty of existing schemes out there (not least in the form of the government-backed Energy Saving Trust labelling scheme) which could be adapted for the purpose.
So why are we still paying standard rate VAT on products that the government should be doing everything in its power to accelerate the development and roll out of?
The answer lies partly in the woeful state of the public finances, but mainly in the Treasury's status as Whitehall's last unreconstructed bastion of anti-environmental thinking.
It is true that the public finances currently have the bloodied visage of Ricky Hatton after 12 rounds, but as the BRC calculates the £507m a year in lost VAT receipts that would result from scrapping VAT on green appliances is equivalent to that lost in little more than two weeks as a result of the across-the-board VAT reduction introduced last December.
Moreover, removing the price premium on many green products is arguably a more effective means of encouraging investment in their clean tech development than the millions the government has ploughed into various low carbon funds and subsidies over the years.
The real reason for the failure to give the VAT proposals due consideration lies in what the outgoing chair of the Sustainable Development Commission, Jonathon Porritt, rightly diagnosed as the Treasury's record of having "killed a lot of the energy around sustainable development".
Porritt's description of the Treasury as "startlingly arrogant" will have chimed with any green business or environmental group having to deal with Whitehall and it is undoubtedly this ingrained desire to downplay environmental issues that has put paid to the VAT proposals, just as it managed to neuter calls for a Green New Deal last year, and continues to put a brake on efforts to cut emissions across the public sector.
It is about time the Chancellor banged some of his mandarins' heads together and there are few better places to start than by ordering them to scrap VAT on green products - not only would he give one almighty kick start to the UK's green businesses, he might even get some positive press out of it for his week in charge.
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