Lynne Featherstone writes… Tories’ huge backward step on climate change

Today the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd, will give a speech to update us all on the Government’s energy policy. What she will say has been widely trailed and it contains some seriously bad news.

The last six months have seen a relentless and systematic unravelling of the excellent work done by Ed Davey to develop the green economy. The Government is now going one step further to deprioritise decarbonisation as a main goal, in favour of making energy security its number one priority. It does not seem to realise it is possible to deliver on both.

Amber Rudd will say she plans to curb the growth of renewable industries even further, with the logical conclusion that there must be an increase in nuclear and gas to meet energy needs. This means expensive subsidies paid to other countries, rather than investment in renewables in the UK, and also fracking.

The most baffling aspect of the Government’s abandonment of the renewable sector is the fact there is such a strong business case for investing in green industries. We might understand their actions if it was just about environmental concern, which Conservatives have never been strong on, and we know of the power wielded by backbench climate-change deniers and fossil fuel lobbyists. But to ignore the long-term economic case in favour of short-term cash gains is extraordinary. The UK has been a world leader in this sector and continuing to invest and develop these job-creating industries while we have a competitive advantage and while the costs of producing renewable energy are plummeting is simply good economic sense.

The timing of this speech is extremely worrying, being just a fortnight before the most significant global conference on climate change that there has ever been. The UN Climate Conference in Paris is a precious opportunity to build a worldwide consensus on tackling climate change. Undermining the UK’s clout in those discussions could potentially have devastating consequences.

It is clear now, if it wasn’t before, that the good work of the Coalition on green issues was entirely down to work of Liberal Democrats. Left on their own the Conservatives have shown that there is no genuine commitment to tackling climate change at all. Amber Rudd’s accusations that DECC over-spent over recent years are inaccurate and quite simply a smoke-screen for politically motivated cuts. The ending of electricity from coal announced today is of course good news, but what most people don’t know is that the Conservatives repeatedly opposed Lib Dem plans to do this during the Coalition. Cost pressures have finally changed their mind.

But while it angers us all to see what the Government is now doing, we should be careful to remember that their actions can only go so far in unpicking what Lib Dems achieved. The solar panels we put on roofs will remain. The wind farms we opened will continue to contribute towards our energy needs. There may be no new ones thanks to the Tories, but we can still be proud of the positive difference we have made. We must continue to fight for a greener economy because we have shown that our actions match our words, and it is clear that for the Tories they do not. Unfortunately Amber Rudd’s speech today makes that crystal clear.

* Lynne Featherstone was the MP for Hornsey and Wood Green from 2005 to 2015, and served as a minister in both the Home Office and Department for International Development. She blogs at www.lynnefeatherstone.org.

Farron on Tax Credits vote: Osborne must go back to the drawing board

Commenting on the votes in the House of Lords tonight which resulted in two Government defeats on tax credits, Tim Farron said:

The Government has been forced into an embarrassing climb down. George Osborne must now go back to the drawing board and come back with plans to balance the books that don’t simply attack working families who are already struggling to get by.

We have sent a clear signal to the Tories that the British people will not accept this scale of attack on the vital support they need.

Tonight’s vote gives people hope, but the threat still looms large.

It is utterly depressing that Labour did not join with the Liberal Democrats to kill off the cuts to Tax Credits completely.

We support the delay in the proposals and the demand for transitional protection, but this alone won’t stop the Conservative’s attack on working families who rely on Tax Credits, or ensure that it really does pay more to be in work than remain on benefits.

The Liberal Democrats will continue to do all we can stop tax credit changes that disproportionately hurt low-earning families, and urge others to do the same.

Lib Dems table a fatal motion on tax credits

 

The Lib Dems in the House of Lords are planning to spike the Government’s tax credit plans by tabling a “fatal motion”.

The peers have decided to take this step as the tax credit plans are deeply unfair and would leave three million low income people £1,000 worse off.

Zahida Manzoor, the party’s Work and Pensions spokesperson, will table the motion which would decline to approve the regulations and, if passed, the Government will have to come up with a revised version of its proposals.

The motion is additional to a motion by Labour Peer, Baroness Hollis of Heigham, which would decline to approve the Tax Credit cut unless the Government puts in place transitional measures.

The Liberal Democrats will support Patricia Hollis’ amendment, but the party does not believe that transitional protection is enough to protect the families affected.

Commenting on the move, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said:

“We have been clear that the Government’s changes to tax credits are unacceptable. David Cameron explicitly ruled them out during the General Election. Yet now he is dead set on cutting support for people who are doing the right thing and going out to work for provide for their families.

“These changes have all the hallmarks of a Poll Tax of the 21st Century. David Cameron and George Osborne need to listen to those, including their own backbenchers, telling them to think again. While we agree that the transitional protection proposed by others would be an improvement on the Government’s plan, we believe that this would not go far enough. That is why we will we seek to stop these measures for good.”

While Baroness Manzoor, Liberal Democrat Work and Pensions spokesperson, said:

“Our motion gives the House the opportunity to make clear its view on the Government’s plans for Tax Credits, and gives the Government a chance to reconsider its proposals. While we support any measure to improve the on the Government’s approach, it is important that the Lords is clear in our view.The House of Lords has the absolute constitutional right to oppose measures that it believes are flawed or damaging. I can think of few better reasons to use this power than to stop moves to cut vital support for millions of working families.”

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Commitment to environment is “systematically unravelling” under Tories

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron and former Energy Secretary Ed Davey have written to Amber Rudd to call for the end of the Tories’ “ideological assault” on green energy.

The pair are deeply alarmed with the “systematic unravelling” of the renewable industries since May 8 and believe Conservative policies fatally undermine the UK’s climate change commitments.

They warn that severe cuts to solar and wind subsidies, as well as ending the Green Deal and abolishing Zero Carbon Homes make a mockery of Britain’s environment targets.

Increasing tax breaks for oil giants and further subsidising foreign nuclear firms at the same time as slashing help for clean energy companies will also kill off the industry, they caution.

They have now called on Ms Rudd to set out immediately how the Government plans to meet the UK’s legally binding climate change and renewables targets.

 

In the letter Tim Farron and Ed Davey write:

We are writing to you regarding our concerns for the future of Britain’s renewable industries and our global leadership on climate change.

We are utterly appalled at the systematic unravelling of the renewables industries that is taking place under your leadership. We stand with business executives, trade associations and environmental NGOs and call for an end to this ideological assault on green energy which is economically nonsensical and is undermining Britain’s ability to push for a more ambitious global Climate Change Treaty at the UN in Paris this December.

Despite your statement in May this year that you planned to unleash a ‘solar revolution’, your department has enacted a series of devastating policies which make a mockery of this and will ultimately dismantle much of the work on green policy that the Liberal Democrats achieved in Government, costing thousands of jobs and jeopardising our economic future. Severe cuts to solar and wind subsidies, as well as ending the Green Deal and abolishing Zero Carbon Homes, together mean that progress towards tackling climate change is fundamentally undermined.

You have used two arguments to justify your actions. First, that the Levy Control Framework is overspent, and second, that you are trying to help consumers with their energy bills. You must know both arguments are bogus.

On the LCF budget, what has happened to the headroom contingency arrangements agreed in the Coalition of 20% above the agreed Levy Control Framework totals, in the event of lower wholesale gas prices which we now see? It is economic madness to cut long term investment in solar and wind, because of short term changes to international gas prices.

Second, the assumptions behind the LCF figures published to date are not transparent, and beg many questions such as the assumption made on project attrition. Because you are using these figures to try to justify the devastation being reaped on the UK renewables industry, we call on you to publish all the assumptions behind those figures. We are also calling for the DECC Select Committee and the Public Accounts Committee to hold an inquiry into the LCF figures you are using to justify this damage.

You also say you are concerned about consumers. Why then are you deliberately targeting cuts to onshore wind and solar energy, which are widely acknowledged to be the cheapest renewable electricity sources currently, and are both predicted to see large price falls in the future. If you remain, as you claim, committed to the Climate Change Act, meeting our legal obligations will cost consumers more, if you stop these two renewable technologies. In other words, your justification for cutting renewable energy investment is bogus.

Partly because of such concerns above, Liberal Democrat peers are tabling an amendment today on the Energy Bill which requires the Secretary of State to produce a report on how the Government will meet its climate change targets, including its obligations under the legally binding European Renewables Directive, which requires a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from EU countries by 20% by 2020. This amendment seeks to enhance existing reporting requirements on issues such as the Levy Control Framework and the impact of onshore wind investment on consumer bills, given the weakness of your arguments used to justify your policies to date.

Green policy under this Conservative Government is heading in entirely the wrong direction and has already damaged the UK’s credibility and leadership role on climate change ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris this December. Furthermore, why are we willing to increase tax breaks for oil and gas and maintain subsidies for nuclear power run by the French and Chinese whilst at the same time slashing subsidies for clean energy technologies like solar and wind where British firms are increasingly winning orders? This is not the level playing field for low carbon technologies the UK advocates abroad but politically-driven picking winners.

So we call upon you and your Government colleagues for immediate public assurances that the UK still intends to meet our legally binding climate change and renewable energy targets, and to set out in detail how you will in practice do that.

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Cameron’s 11th hour conversion to social justice will fool no one

David Cameron, in his speech to the Conservative Party conference, no doubt wanted everyone to come away thinking he had made an apparent 11th hour conversion to social justice. From almost anyone else, this would be welcome – but Cameron’s empty rhetoric will fool no one.

If you want to understand this Conservative Government you have to look at what they have done, and not the promises of a seasoned PR man. In this case actions truly do speak louder than words.

This, after all, is from a Government that has already scrapped the child poverty target, demonised refugees, cut benefits for asylum seekers and slashed housing benefit for large families.

It is the most extraordinary chutzpah for Cameron to claim to be a poverty champion at the same time he is picking the pockets of the very poorest workers by slashing their tax credits.

The Prime Minister might spin a decent line about prison reform too but this is from a party that banned prisoners’ reading books.

And if he was really concerned about racial discrimination he would publicly denounce his Home Secretary’s shameful attack on immigrants.

Liberal Democrats welcome the Prime Minister’s change of tone but it has to be backed up by actions – not just easy words.

Nowhere is this more clear than in two of modern Britain’s most pressing issues: the housing crisis and the upcoming EU referendum.

Liberal Democrats have long called for action to tackle the national housing emergency.

But typically the Conservative focus is on helping the few not the many. They seem only interested in helping better off renters and not the 1.6 million people on waiting lists for a home of any sort.

When it comes to Europe, it is time Cameron comes clean about his vague “renegotiation” package.

We are a modern, free, prosperous country, respected the world over and this is Britain’s time to lead the EU – not runaway.

Cameron is clearly too scared of his own party to make the case for the EU and too scared of the public to set out what he wants to achieve in his renegotiations.

The Liberal Democrats are clear – we are the only party that will fight whole-heartedly to stay in Europe.

TORIES BREAK CARE PROMISE

Tories have announced that the cap on care costs, promised during the election campaign, has been postponed, possibly never to see the light of day.
As Care Minister, Norman Lamb (and his Liberal Democrat predecessor) were pivotal in ensuring that the cap for care costs was introduced. The Conservatives have now delayed its implementation by 4 long years. Norman described this as an “outrageous betrayal of people at their most weak and most frail. He said:

This an extraordinary and devastating u-turn from the Tories and an outrageous betrayal of people at their most weak and most frail with conditions like dementia.

Crippling care costs need addressing urgently. In coalition we designed a solution that would help and was affordable. Local authorities have spent millions already preparing for the introduction of the cap, yet we now hear the Tories are turning their back on it. This delay is a total waste of public money.

The distress and heartbreak that people feel when a loved one is in care, is being exacerbated by the fear of how to pay for it. We must not allow this to continue.

Be in no doubt, this is not a delay. The Tories are abandoning the cap. George Osborne never supported this, and Labour were only half hearted in support. The cap was only secured because Liberal Democrats negotiated it in coalition.

There’s no possibility that the finances of social care will be any easier in 2020. They have broken a clear promise in their manifesto within weeks of grabbing power on their own and decided to prioritise tax cuts for the wealthy.

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader, Kirsty Williams,  warned of the “dire consequences” of the delay:

I am appalled that, the moment the Liberal Democrats leave government, the Tories have kicked our plans to cap lifetime care costs into the long grass.

Liberal Democrats in government fought to reform the way social care is funded, to help ease the burden of long term care costs on the elderly, their families and carers.

With an ageing population in Wales, the need to secure a sustainable system for paying for care has never been more urgent. Yet the Welsh Labour Government has said it will sit back and wait for the reforms to first happen in England. This means that we will see no long term reform until post 2020, which will have dire consequences for many elderly people in Wales and their families.

The care cap was to be met largely by freezing the inheritance tax threshold at £325,000, which George Osborne has now announced he will raise to £500,000. It is no wonder that the care cap cannot be funded when the Tories are giving the wealthy a windfall tax break which the Lib Dems blocked in government.

We need a fair and sustainable system where people no longer live in fear of losing nearly everything they own to pay for care and it is time for the Welsh Labour Government to lay out a plan for Wales. Using the excuse of a lack of money doesn’t wash when the Welsh Government can still find millions of pounds to buy an airport on a whim.

TORIES STRIKE BLOW TO GREEN INDUSTRY

In a huge blow to Britain’s Green industry, the Conservatives have announced they will end all Government funding to the Green Deal – a programme set up by the Liberal Democrats in Coalition that helps people make their homes more energy efficient.

Tim Farron has condemned the new policy, saying:

“Today’s news is yet another blow for green industry and British jobs. The Conservatives claim they want to tackle climate change, but this is further evidence they don’t care about the environment.

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“For five years we fought sceptical Tories to ensure we were the greenest Government ever by investing billions in renewables and setting out ambitious climate change targets.

“By quietly dumping the Green Deal, David Cameron has yet again shown how little he cares about the future of the planet.

“The Prime Minister has not so much hugged a husky as led it behind the coal shed, shot it in the head and told his Energy Secretary it has gone to live on a farm in the country.”

The scrapping of the Green Deal comes as Friends of the Earth have criticised David Cameron for “dismantling” 10 year’s worth of low carbon policies.

In Coalition, Liberal Democrats delivered the greenest Government ever – investing billions in renewables and eco-friendly jobs. Just a few months after the Lib Dems left office, the Conservatives have:

Scrapped subsidies for onshore wind and commercial solar – the two cheapest forms of clean energy
Slashed the energy efficiency budget
Ended the tax break for clean cars
Abolished rules on zero carbon housing
Lowered taxes on polluting firms
Introduced a tax on clean energy

TIM FARRON TO HARRIET HARMAN

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has written to Labour’s interim leader Harriet Harman to ask her to ensure that her party opposes the Government’s Welfare Bill.

Here is the text of his letter:

Dear Harriet
The Conservative Government last night brought forward plans for £12bn of cuts to welfare that will directly impact millions of people across the country including the poorest families in our constituencies.

The Conservatives do not need to make these cuts, especially at the same time as giving tax breaks to millionaires.

The people who will be hit by these changes need someone to give them a voice in Parliament and fight their corner, and last night Labour failed to stand up for them.

You have said that you do not want to oppose absolutely every saving that the Government suggests, but these cuts will hurt the poorest in our communities.

Cuts to employment support allowance, lowering the benefit cap and slashing tax credits for those in low paid work are not policies that any progressive should support.

Labour claim to be a party who believes in social justice. If that is true, then they must join with the Liberal Democrats in voting against these cruel and excessive cuts.

We are consistent in our opposition. In Government we blocked these measures and in opposition we are voting against them.

I am disappointed by Labour’s confusion over this Bill. To give in to the narrative that the answer to our country’s needs is to pit the poorest in the country against one another is shameful.

Labour must join us in providing opposition to this Government’s plans. Your economic credibility cannot be built by simply backing Tory plans that hit the working poor.

The Liberal Democrats will stand up for families, whether they are hard-working or just desperate to be hard-working. We will not let the Conservatives, by their choices, or your party’s failure to oppose these plans unpick our welfare system.

Tim Farron MP

Leader of the Liberal Democrats