After catastrophic economic figures the government needs a growth plan - the answer is at the Clean Energy Ministerial
What a day that was. The UK's political and media elite did not know where to look. In one corner there was Jeremy Hunt clinging to his job, in another there was Rupert Murdoch laying bare his decades of schmoozing with Prime Ministers past and present; lurking by the door were startling economic figures confirming the UK had slipped into a double dip recession, and in the centre of the room was Ed Miliband and David Cameron going at it hammer and tongs over the extent to which the coalition was to blame for all of the above.
Just as we had nearly a months' worth of rain in 24 hours we got a months' worth of news with lobby hacks and stressed out editors battling to keep their head above water.
But while the hunt for Hunt's resignation and the increasingly Watergate-esque revelations from the Levenson Inquiry are hugely important, only one of yesterday's stories really matters to the vast majority of people in the country: while the US and Eurozone are continuing to recover the UK is in recession again.
Now we can argue all you like about who is to blame for this situation, but the question that will concern most people is how do we get out of recession and restore growth.
Both sides of the political divide have their views with Labour clinging to their "too far, too fast" analysis and calling for a recalibrating of the cuts programme coupled with a handful of stimulus measures, while Conservatives are already making noises about further supply side reforms, as if cutting the minimum wage and tearing up planning reforms will save us.
But if both parties were to take a break from sniping at each other for just a brief moment they would see that a major growth engine is staring them in the face in the form of the green economy.
One of the stories that got lost under the avalanche of news yesterday was the launch of the Clean Energy Ministerial at the Foreign Office's Lancaster House in London, which was accompanied by a raft of new commitments from the government to support waste industry projects, carbon capture and storage, and green entrepreneurs.
None of these will be new points to those working in the green economy, but here is a sector worth over £100bn a year that has consistently grown at between four and five per cent since the crash in 2008, while boasting pockets of growth of over 10 per cent in areas such as renewable energy. Here is a sector that is capable of generating both export-driven growth and job-creating inward investment, while already supporting over 900,000 jobs. There is no other sector in the economy that has enjoyed such impressive and consistent growth, apart from pay day loan companies, obviously.
Best of all the green economy has shown it is capable of delivering accelerated growth with relatively little financial investment from the cash-strapped exchequer.
Critics of the green economy argue the cupboard is bare and the Treasury lacks the funds to drive its development, they claim we cannot afford a green economy in times of austerity. But as we have argued time and again there are lots of policy measures that can drive significant growth at little or no cost to the government.
The Green Deal will need only a modest amount of well-targeted government funding to drive investment; in reality renewable energy subsidies such as the feed-in tariff scheme add only small sums to energy bills, not the deficit, and are broadly supported by the public; fuel and appliance efficiency standards could drive green R&D investment and cut people's bills at no cost to government; well-targeted environmental taxes would drive green investment and actually raise money for the Treasury; green procurement standards again cost nothing, while creating new markets for low carbon goods and services; mandatory carbon reporting standards also cost nothing, but encourage businesses to invest some of their cash piles in cutting emissions and improving efficiency. This list of readily available, highly effective green policies that can drive accelerated growth while having a minimal fiscal impact goes on and on.
There are ministers across government who want to deliver these measures and present them as a coherent strategy. Ed Davey and Greg Barker were as eloquent as ever in their support of the green economy at the opening of the Clean Energy Ministerial. Nick Clegg offered an impressive outline of what a green growth plan might look like last week, and William Hague made an important intervention yesterday with a clear statement in support of green growth and action to tackle climate change.
Some encouraging green policies are starting to come together in the form of the Green Deal, the Green Investment Bank, and the Renewable Heat Incentive. And yet none of this either goes far enough, or is presented in a way that makes it look like a coherent green growth plan.
For example, it was encouraging to hear Davey acknowledge yesterday there were concerns clean energy investment stalled in the first quarter of the year, but the main reason it stalled was because of policy uncertainty created in large part by the coalition's actions. Add in a still hostile Treasury and a Prime Minister who for whatever reason refused to give a keynote speech on the topic (do not believe Number 10's spin, the speech has been seriously downgraded) and it is clear the government is badly fumbling the opportunity to build a real and sustainable path to growth.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the House we are starting to see the bare outlines of what a green industrial strategy may look like, but there is still little sense of what practical measures a Labour government would take to drive green growth while still managing the deficit and controlling energy prices.
As yesterday's devastating economic news made plain, the government urgently needs a growth plan that does not add to the deficit. All the while the basis for exactly that growth plan is staring it in the face, jumping up and down, and boasting growth rates of five per cent plus. But because of political concerns, ideological positions, and poor communication, a clear and explicit green growth plan that businesses and investors can believe in refuses to coalesce. And in the meantime the economy continues to contract. Political spin and point-scoring apart, if that is not an "omnishambles" I don't know what is.
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