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Energy Minister Greg Barker promised that the Green Deal would be the biggest home improvement programme since the Second World War, “shifting our outdated draughty homes from the past into the future, so it’s vital people can trust it”.
This is now looking a remote dream as the Coalition grapples with the reality of a very low rate of uptake and the haemorrhaging of jobs from the insulation industry. Unless the Green Deal’s flaws are addressed properly, further confidence will be lost, millions of energy inefficient homes will remain uninsulated and fuel poverty will continue.
When it was launched in January 2013, DECC believed that all 26 million homes could benefit from the Green Deal. They also said that it had the potential to create a quarter of a million jobs in the insulation market that could be worth £7bn by the end of the decade.
However, only 750 households have completed a Green Deal plan in 2013 and no-one really knows how many of the 145,000 assessments that have taken place will lead to actual energy efficiency solutions being installed.
Compare this to Kirklees Council in Huddersfield which made contact with all its residents and during a three year period up to 2010 carried out almost 134,000 home energy assessments. From those, almost 43,000 had loft insulation and 21,000 cavity wall measures installed.
In London, the Mayor of London spent millions on his domestic energy efficiency programme, RE:NEW, but of the 50,000 households visited by specialist assessors, only 3% went on to install energy efficiency measures, such as loft and cavity wall insulation .
Why did the Green Deal go wrong? The Coalition and DECC ignored warnings from the energy efficiency industry, academics, NGOs and virtually everyone else involved with the design of the programme that ministers were pushing ahead to introduce the Green Deal in far too short a timescale. Calls for a transition period were dismissed with an illogical rush to get the programme launched.
All of this has led to the delivery of a half-baked initiative. The Government is now trying to resuscitate the programme, recently announcing it is to spend millions more trying to galvanise people to take up the Green Deal.
After years of heavily subsidising insulation through national energy efficiency programmes, the overnight change to requiring people to enter into a long-term Green Deal finance arrangement to make their homes warmer was never going to be popular.
The UK actually has some of the lowest unit gas and electricity prices compared to economically equivalent European countries, yet we have the highest rate of fuel poverty and amongst the highest rate of excess winter death, with poor energy efficiency of our housing stock as the main reason. The Green Deal has been transformative – but unfortunately for all the wrong reasons.
What we need are proper longer term policies and strategies that can deliver energy efficiency measures on the scale that is needed, particularly hard to treat measures.
What we don’t need are any more politically motivated ‘green crap’ fiascos that had nothing to do with helping people with their bills, but everything to do with the Coalition caving into pressure from the big energy companies and appeasing climate sceptics.
The 2nd December 2013 changes to the ECO alone will result in hundreds of thousands of hard to treat properties not being insulated and several years for the energy efficiency industry to recover and get back on track. Mr Barker better get on and “Green Deal with it”.
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb is a Green Party peer
I'm delighted to say our House Magazine Guide to the Spring Conferences boasts pieces from all of the main party leaders, plus their party activists. We have a strong section on Scotland, with Alex Salmond, Johann Lamont and Ruth Davidson writing, plus Elfyn Llwyd and Carwyn Jones on Wales.
Nigel Farage's UKIP and the Greens are first out of the traps, but Labour also has its special conference and other conferences.
The Lib Dems and Conservatives are also gearing up to make their pitches in coming weeks. We have a stellar array of ministers and shadow ministers writing for us, including Philip Hammond, Ed Davey, Jeremy Hunt, David Laws, Patrick McLoughlin, Sajid Javid, Andy Burnham, Mary Creagh and Vernon Coaker. Let the battle commence!
Labour is committed to reducing the deficit in a fairer way. At a time when ordinary families face a cost-of-living crisis as prices rise faster than wages, there’s very little fairness to be found in this Government’s tax cut for the top 1% of earners.
This is why Ed Balls has announced that Labour would balance the books as soon as possible in the next parliament and reverse this Government’s top rate tax cut on earnings over £150,000.
The Tories’ response to our announcement was predictable with both David Cameron and George Osborne desperate to claim that the 50p tax raised as little money as possible. However, the truth is that even the Tory-led Government’s own assessment claims the cost of cutting the rate to 45p, excluding all behavioural changes, is over £3bn a year.
The Tories continue to justify their tax cut for the very highest earners by saying that most of this potential revenue would be lost as a result of tax avoidance.
But the key decision on the behavioural effect of cutting the top rate was taken by ministers, not HMRC. And as the IFS recently said, HMRC’s assessment was a rushed job based on partial figures only for the first of the three years when the 50p rate was in place.
The truth is that the decision to cut the top rate of tax was a highly political one and driven by David Cameron and George Osborne’s desire to give the richest people in our country – the 1% who earn more than £150,000 – a tax cut. And both the Prime Minister and Chancellor have refused to rule out cutting it again to 40p in the next parliament. It’s hard to see how such a decision fits in with the rhetoric of all being in this together at a time of deficit reduction.
Of course there will be those who seek to avoid paying the top rate of tax, but such behaviour is a false justification for cutting the tax rate. Surely a more fiscally responsible response would be to crack down on tax avoidance to ensure that more people pay the correct amount?
Restoring the 50p tax rate and cracking down on tax avoidance is just one way we’ll make the tax system fairer. We’ll also scrap the shares for rights scheme and reverse the tax cut for hedge funds. And we want to introduce a lower 10p starting rate of tax to help 24 million people on middle and low incomes.
The next Labour government will finish the job of getting the deficit down in a way that ensures those with the broadest shoulders bear a fairer share of the burden. And that is why reversing David Cameron’s top rate tax cut is the right policy for the next parliament.Shabana Mahmood is Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood and Shadow Exchequer Secretary
Who is David Cameron?
I only ask because so few people seem to know.
Of course voters know his job title and a bit about his background – largely that he went to Eton, then Oxford, where he was a member of something called the Bullingdon Club.
They know he has a beautiful and accomplished wife; likes the countryside; and has several young children, including one who was profoundly disabled and tragically died.
Yet for a prime minister who has been in Downing St for almost four years, and leader of his party for nine, the real David Cameron remains surprisingly enigmatic.
Beyond the importance of family and the basic principles of the free market, in what does David Cameron really believe?
If one were to make a list of what he seems to stand for, how much of it would be up for negotiation, if push came to shove in the Westminster or Brussels bear pit? Is there anything for which he would be prepared to resign?
When I interviewed the Prime Minister for the Sunday Times at New Year, I was struck by a casual remark he made.
The context was the green agenda: I put it to him that he had effectively ‘sold out’ on the environment, which was such a pivotal part of his early days as party leader.
Most of his response was predictable: defending his record and insisting he has delivered on his promise to make this government the greenest ever.
It was what came next that was telling. Apparently accepting that some aspects of the green agenda have fallen by the wayside, he remarked: “That’s what politics is about! You get a bit of this…you get rid of that...”
Does this sum up the Prime Minister’s attitude to his administration?
I think the comment tells us more than that the Prime Minister is willing to compromise. It suggests he is prepared to jettison what once seemed like core principles in the interests of keeping the show on the road.
Of course it is this pragmatism that has made him so well suited to governing in coalition. Despite being shackled to deeply unpromising political partners, he has indeed kept the show on the road.
But his approach also leaves many voters wondering who he really is – and that is a problem. Voters may not have liked his two predecessors, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, but there was little doubting what they stood for. The same can be said for Labour leader Ed Miliband, who has made it crystal clear who he is.
That is why Lord Ashcroft and I are writing a new biography of Cameron: to try to find the real character behind the bland political mask.
Since our project was announced, a number of people have questioned whether it is a worthwhile exercise. Is there much to reveal? Isn’t he just quite boring?
After all, there’s already an excellent unauthorised biography of the Prime Minister, by my former lobby colleague Francis Elliott and James Hanning of The Independent.
Lord Ashcroft and I disagree. Elliott and Hanning wrote the body of their book in 2007, less than two years after Cameron became party leader. While they update it periodically, much has changed since they did the groundwork, particularly the perspective of many Tory MPs.
We will talk to as many sources as possible, both admirers and those more critical of Cameron’s personality and performance, in an attempt to strip away the emperor’s clothes. Our aim is to be thorough and objective.
Perhaps what you see is what you get; maybe there really isn’t much more to say about David Cameron. But we are confident there will be a few surprises.
Isabel Oakeshott is a political commentator and is currently co-authoring a biography of David Cameron with Lord Ashcroft
When it comes to the political landscape, the UK has moved a long way since 2010, in some respects. In others, there’s been little change at all.
In the last General Election, voters were very focused on the state of the economy, but generally less focused on the wisdom of our economic model. The general mood was that “yes, we always knew that ‘the end of boom and bust’ was a fallacy, so we’ve just had another bust”. The assumption was that we could more or less go back to the start of 2007 and steam on from there as before.
That kind of certainty no longer exists. There’s widespread, rightful, scepticism, about our ‘recovery’, built on consumer spending and booming house prices in the South East (what could possibly go wrong with that?). And, particularly since our sodden, miserable winter, more people have begun to think about the damage our obsession with economic growth at all costs is doing to our economy.
What’s the same? There’s still depression about the state of politics, a feeling that the two largest parties – with their attention increasingly focused on swing voters in swing seats and on what will play in tomorrow’s headlines – are increasingly divorced from reality.
The fact that this year’s election is European, and decided on proportional representation, means a rare chance in the political cycle for all of us to be sure our vote will be represented in the final parliament.
For the Green Party that’s an important opportunity. A national swing of 1.6% to us from 2009 would treble our number of representatives in the European Parliament. For the first time there would be Green MEPs representing the North West, Eastern, South West and Yorkshire and Humber regions, all joining the fourth largest group in Strasbourg.
And in the concurrent local elections, there’s a chance to further build on our current 144 principal authority councillors, to become the official opposition on Solihull council, and to strengthen our position in London.
Together, the elections represent an opportunity to massively increase the number of people who have both a local Green councillor and a local MEP, especially following the broadening of our support in last year’s county elections – which saw our first county councillors elected in Cornwall, Essex, Surrey, Kent, Worcestershire and Warwickshire.
That puts us in a good place for 2015, which will be a historically unique election year for us – the first in which we are a Westminster parliamentary party. The primary focus will of course be the retention of Brighton Pavilion, won and so brilliantly occupied since by Caroline Lucas. And that’s in the face of a Labour spending splurge in the seat. Beyond that, we’ll be able to say to voters in seats up and down the country, from Norwich to Bristol, Liverpool to London: “Brighton and Hove did it – you can do it too.”
People are increasingly hearing our message – views that chime very closely with theirs and which are represented by no other party, whether it’s making the minimum wage a living wage, bringing the railways back into public hands, restoring a publicly run NHS, genuinely reforming our fraud-ridden, swollen, dangerous banking system, choosing wind farms over fracking or scrapping university tuition fees.
Above all, there’s a sense that we need to massively refashion our society so that we can deliver a decent standard of life for everyone while living within our environmental limits. That means warm, comfortable, affordable-to-heat homes, incomes sufficient to ensure food banks can close down due to lack of demand, the return of manufacturing and food production back to the UK, and the rebuilding of strong local economies based on small business and cooperatives.
Every day I talk to people from a range of political backgrounds who are convinced that British politics is approaching a breaking point – a sudden change that’s going to mean the past is little use in predicting future direction. That change is necessary, and it needs to come soon.
Natalie Bennett is the leader of the Green Party