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Politics

Energy policy and the environment

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LAST WEEK The Herald looked at the energy market and the ways in which different parties have approached the question of rising domestic energy bills.

That article discussed the ways in which taking advantage of existing energy efficiency schemes and the use of the most competitive tariffs would reduce bills far more than a simple price cut on the most commonly used domestic tariff.

Labour has claimed it will create over 300,000 renewable energy jobs throughout the country and put modern low-carbon industries at the heart of a £500 billion investment strategy, championing ‘a new green industrial revolution’.

One of the big ideas underpinning that commitment is to promote the growth of local energy companies and support the development of 1,000 community energy co-operatives. That’s accompanied by a commitment to 65% renewable electricity by 2030, aiming for 85% as technology improves and diffuses.

All of which will sound very familiar to Plaid Cymru, whose Shadow Environment spokesperson, Simon Thomas AM, has called for the creation of Ynni Cymru to promote Wales’ own self-sufficiency in domestic energy. It sounds like Plaid’s clothes have been lifted by Jeremy Corbyn’s promises to invest in similar schemes and raise investment across the UK.

Labour has set out a radical commitment to set up publicly-owned energy supply companies in every region focused purely on cutting prices. Under the same proposals, Government would take ‘control of the natural monopolies of the transmission and distribution grids’ currently run by the National Grid.

The Labour leader has made big promises, and the cynical might think that Labour may as well shoot for The Moon, given the remote chances it has of forming an administration under Jeremy Corbyn as PM.

“We’ve got a real opportunity to drive the green economy – to have green jobs, green growth, and make sure that we have our share of the industries of the future. Clearly there’s the climate change agenda, where we’ve got to get back on track, both nationally and internationally. And third, there is the issue of energy security, which I think is vitally important, which we need to do a huge amount of work on.”

Those were big promises, too. They were made seven years ago by David Cameron at the outset of his first term as PM, when he pledged to lead the greenest government ever. By 2013, David Cameron was keen to ‘get rid of all the green crap’, as the hopes of 2010 smashed into the economic and political realities of Treasury austerity.

The rug was pulled from under the renewables industry: following through on the pledge to virtually ban onshore wind, and slashing the feed in tariff. Overall UK carbon emissions had been falling but the growth in renewables deployment stalled, and solar companies employing thousands of people around the country went bust.

Five years later, at the outset of his second term, David Cameron pulled the Green Deal for UK homes.

On every single one of those policy decisions, commitments, and staggering reversals Theresa May went along, bobbing along like a cork on the tide of Cabinet collective responsibility. The number of times she has spoken out on energy policy in public can be counted on the fingers of one thumb. However, she merged the Department of Energy and Climate Change into a new Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in July 2016.

While that suggests a rather less overtly ‘green’ approach to the PR side of politics than her predecessor, it is noteworthy that Theresa May has expressed consistent and strong positions on the issue of energy security. Her first noteworthy public policy decision was to initiate a pause on the development of Hinkley B, ostensibly due to concerns of increasing UK reliance on Chinese investment in its energy infrastructure.

In addition, in a complex and volatile international energy market, there are clear attractions for the PM in adopting measure which enhance energy security and the reduction on the reliance of overseas energy. Her concerns on energy supply were echoed in the 2015 Conservative manifesto, which said: ‘Without secure energy supplies, our country becomes less safe and less prosperous’.

And, in 2008, Mrs May said: “I am thrilled to see that after years of Conservative pressure, we have finally passed a necessary and ambitious piece of legislation on Climate Change. Britain is the first country in the world to formally bind itself to cut greenhouse emissions and I strongly believe this will improve our national and economic security.

“To stay reliant on fossil fuels would mean tying ourselves to increasingly unstable supplies which could endanger our energy security and the Climate Change and Energy Bills mark an important step for both the health of our economy and the health of our nation. It is now vital that we stick to these targets.”

The logic of Mrs May’s evident and consistently expressed concerns on security of energy supply is to make the UK more self-sufficient. There are two sides to that issues: firstly, the extension of green energy generation; secondly, the extension of fracking and nuclear power.

The second limb of that proposition is the most contentious. Fracking is a public relations disaster waiting to happen and the first time it is scheduled to take place in a Conservative-held marginal seat is when we will see just how committed the Conservative party is to its use. As for nuclear power, it requires considerable public support and subsidy to make it even marginally viable for the long term.

The only large energy project requiring anything like the level of price support as nuclear power is the Swansea Tidal Lagoon, which for all its carbon-saving claims involves quarrying stone in Cornwall, building new jetties extending into the Bristol Channel and transporting the stone over by barge to Swansea by the thousands of tonnes to build a tidal barrage affecting marine life and habitats across the whole of Swansea Bay.

For someone as sensitive to polls as Theresa May it is worth noting that the BEIS tracker surveys on consumer views shows significantly higher support for renewable energy (at around 75-80%) than for other options. Opposition to renewables was very low at 4%, with only 1% strongly opposed.

However, and this is where energy policies and political judgement come into play, support for renewables was lower amongst those in social grade DE (72%), aged 65+ (73%), and social renters (75%).

The first two of those groups are key electoral demographics whose support Theresa May is actively courting. The triangulation of Conservative policy on energy, which now appears to have abandoned the notion that competition delivers the best results for energy users, might not swing a lot of votes, but the Conservative leader will not be shy of using every gimmick in her arsenal to court wavering voters looking for a way to justify voting Conservative.

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Politics

New Year’s messages from party leaders

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Leanne Wood: Wales needs powers to tackle its own problems

Andrew RT Davies

AS ASSEMBLY Members we have the privilege of being in a position to make a meaningful difference to the lives of the people of Wales.

My New Year’s resolution will be to carry that mantra into 2018, and concentrate on the things that bring us together rather than things that drive us apart.

As a country we are often accused of looking at our feet rather than at the horizon. Let’s make 2018 the year that we challenge that narrative and look ahead to the opportunities in front of us.

New Year’s Day is a hopeful time, as we mark the passing of one year and look ahead to a healthier and happy new one.

It is a time of positivity, and a time to be open to change.

2017 was a difficult year in so many ways. Yet it was in the very depths of adversity that we witnessed the best of human nature – and the true strength of community spirit.

The Assembly itself also witnessed great tragedy, but we have to continue to look forward and reach for the more positive future that’s just around the corner.

Above all, we must remember that in spite of our political differences there is much that binds us together.

There are huge opportunities ahead for this country and there will be times when our ability to come together will serve the people of Wales far better than working in isolation.

Wishing everyone across Wales and the United Kingdom the very best for 2018.

Carwyn Jones

AS the year draws to a close, it is a good time to reflect on the events of the last 12 months and look ahead to the year to come.

2018 offers us new opportunities and a chance to build on the progress we have made this year, and over the past two decades of devolution.

There are certainly challenges and uncertainty ahead, but many reasons for optimism too. I look forward to my ministerial team and I driving forward our ambitious plans for Wales – focusing on growing the economy, creating jobs, supporting our public services and improving the day-to-day lives of the people of Wales.

I want 2018 to be a year that unites us – a year in which we celebrate all we have in common and work together to build the fair, open, prosperous nation that we all want Wales to become.

I wish you and your families a very happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.

Leanne Wood

PEOPLE here in Wales face many problems and challenges which cannot be solved by our National Assembly because of its limited powers and because its current Labour government lacks the necessary will and ambition to get those powers.

Neither can our problems be solved by Westminster, where the concerns of Wales are an afterthought at best. I very much hope that 2018 will be the year where we collectively conclude that only people in Wales can solve the problems this country faces.

As the political landscape changes alongside our relationships within the UK and Europe, as people in countries like Catalonia and Scotland push for self-government to have more control over the decisions that affect them, we have the chance for 2018 to be the year that people here consider how we in Wales can be empowered to tackle more of our problems for ourselves.

While the other parties may be content for many big decisions to be taken on our behalf in London, Plaid Cymru believes that decisions are best made by those who are directly affected by them. Plaid Cymru therefore believes also in further devolution within Wales.

My team and I will be dedicating time in 2018 to be in open consultation with people right throughout the country about how we can make the most of the opportunity devolution has given us to practice a different kind of politics, how we can extend and deepen our autonomy to develop a real alternative to the mess that Westminster has to offer.

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Politics

Mandy Jones sworn in as AM

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Taking office: UKIP's Michelle Brown AM (L) welcomes new AM Mandy Jones

MANDY JONES has been returned as an Assembly Member for the North Wales region following the resignation of Nathan Gill.

Mr Gill, whose sporadic attendance at the Assembly had become a running sore, resigned just before Christmas.

When a regional Assembly seat becomes vacant, the Llywydd informs the Regional Returning Officer for the relevant region.

Where the seat was vacated by a Member who was elected at an Assembly general election from a list of candidates submitted by a political party, the Regional Returning Officer is required to contact the next candidate on the list submitted at the time of the general election by that political party.

Once the Regional Returning Officer has established that the person is able and willing to serve, the Regional Returning Officer informs the Llywydd of the name of the person.

When the Llywydd receives notification of the name, that person becomes an Assembly Member. However, he or she cannot undertake the work of an Assembly Member until the oath has been taken.

The Regional Returning Officer informed the Llywydd on 27 December 2017 that Mandy Jones is able and willing to serve and was therefore returned as an Assembly Member for the North Wales region on that day.

And, on December 29, Mandy Jones AM was sworn in as the new Assembly Member for North Wales, in a ceremony at the National Assembly’s North Wales Office in Colwyn Bay.

Mrs Jones was accompanied at the ceremony by her family, and fellow UKIP AM for North Wales, Michelle Brown.

Mandy Jones commented: “I am extremely grateful and honoured to have the opportunity to be the Assembly Member for North Wales. I live here, I raised my children here and I promise to serve this region to the best of my ability.

“I will work hard on your behalf by supporting local businesses in delivering good jobs and campaigning for better local health and transport services in north Wales.”

UKIP Wales Leader Neil Hamilton welcomed Mandy Jones to the UKIP Assembly Group stating: “We are looking forward to welcoming our new team member, Mandy Jones into the group. UKIP is stronger with an additional member in the National Assembly and on the front foot in Wales. We are looking forward to 2018, where we will be even more active and vocal, as we continue to stand up for the people of Wales against the cosy Cardiff Bay consensus.”

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Politics

‘Payroll vote’ attacked

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23 on the roll: Carwyn Jones

THE EVER-INCREASING size of the Welsh Government ‘pay-roll vote’ is damaging the effectiveness of democracy in Wales according to the Welsh Conservatives.

Following Carwyn Jones’ last reshuffle, twenty one Labour Assembly Members now hold remunerated positions – be it ministerial, commission or committee chair posts – which currently represents a staggering 75 per cent of the governing party in Wales. In Scotland, the percentage of SNP members in similar paid-up positions is closer to 50 per cent.

The pay-roll vote and democratic deficit intensifies in Wales with the inclusion of Independent AM, Dafydd Elis-Thomas, and Lib Dem AM, Kirsty Williams, as Welsh government ministers.

Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew RT Davies, has said the ‘bloated’ government pay-roll vote is damaging the heart of democracy in Wales.

He said: “The ever-increasing and bloated size of the Welsh Government ‘pay-roll vote’ is damaging the effectiveness and heart of democracy in Wales.

“As an opposition party, we work around the clock to hold Carwyn Jones and his chaotic government to account, but the Welsh Parliament is unquestionably being harmed by the ever-shrinking voice of genuine backbenchers.

“By bringing three quarters of his Labour members into the ‘paid-up tent’, the First Minister is effectively closing down scrutiny of his actions and those of his government.

“A tired government of 18 years standing and devoid of new ideas is seeking to cover-up its numerous failures by increasing the democratic deficit in Wales – people and communities deserve better and for that we need to start with a fully functioning democracy and smaller government pay-roll.”

‘Welsh Government pay-roll vote’

Labour Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers (12):
Carwyn Jones – First Minister
Ken Skates – Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport
Vaughan Gething – Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services
Huw Irranca-Davies – Minister for Children and Social Care
Mark Drakeford – Cabinet Secretary for Finance
Alun Davies – Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services
Rebecca Evans – Minister for Housing and Regeneration
Lesley Griffiths – Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs
Hannah Blythyn – Minister for Environment
Eluned Morgan – Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning
Julie James – Leader of the House and Chief Whip, with responsibility for digital infrastructure and equalities
Jeremy Miles – Counsel General

Other Welsh Government Ministers (2):
Dafydd Elis Thomas – Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport
Kirsty Williams – Cabinet Secretary for Education

DPO and Committee Chairs (7):
Ann Jones – Deputy Presiding Officer and Chair of Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister
Lynne Neagle – Children, Young People and Education Committee
Mike Hedges – Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee
Mick Antoniw – Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee
John Griffiths – Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee
David Rees – External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee
Jane Bryant – Standards of Conduct Committee

Other roles (2):
Joyce Watson – Commissioner – Equalities and the Commission as the employer of Assembly staff
Julie Morgan – Chair of the All-Wales Programme Monitoring Committee (EU funding oversight)

During the last Assembly term, the scope of the payroll vote was demonstrated when a Labour AM, Jenny Rathbone, was sacked by Carwyn Jones as Chair of the All-Wales PMC for breaching ‘collective responsibility’ by speaking out against a policy decision made by the Welsh Government – despite fulfilling a number of supposedly ‘backbench’ roles such as sitting on Assembly Committees as a Labour representative.

While Mr Davies’ point has merit, in the Westminster parliament the total number of ministers in government posts in June 2017, following the general election and reshuffle of Theresa May’s Government, was 118.

This was the same number as under the Cameron administration in May 2015, but more than all other post-1979 general elections bar 2010.

As a point of comparison, there were sixty government ministers in 1990 and India, with a population of over 1.3bn, has under eighty.

There are nine unpaid ministers in Theresa May’s June 2017 Government.

The Prime Minister is able to invite Ministers to attend Cabinet without making them Cabinet Ministers. There are five people in Theresa May’s June 2017 Government who attend Cabinet without being full Cabinet Ministers.

There is no formal definition of the payroll vote. It is generally considered to refer to all those who hold a role in the administration, whether paid or unpaid. This includes senior roles, as well as more junior roles including Parliamentary Private Secretaries (PPSs).

The proportion of Members of the House of Commons who have been part of the payroll vote has varied from 19-22% between 1979 and 2017. More recently, the Conservative Government rigged the Select Committee system, which is supposed to scrutinise the government, by appointing nine members of its payroll vote to select committees.

There have been calls for the size of the payroll vote to be limited.

Most recently, in a 2011 report, the Public Administration Select Committee noted that the proportion of those holding government posts would be exacerbated by the proposed reduction in the size of the House of Commons from 650 to 600 following the forthcoming Boundary Review. Their recommendations included cutting the number of PPSs to one per Government Department and that the Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1975 should be seen as imposing a strict limit on paid and unpaid ministers.

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