The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) reads with alarm a report by the independent group Green Alliance claiming the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) could see as much as 90% of its staffing budget cut within the next three years. NFLA seriously question any claim to be the ‘greenest government in political history’ if such changes occur.
The detailed study by the Green Alliance (1) suggests that, with the ring fencing of health, education and development budgets, other departments face an 11.6% cut over the next five years.
With the large majority of DECC’s funding going on fixed items like nuclear decommissioning – indeed NFLA would argue the Department’s name should be rather called the Department of Nuclear Decommissioning, Energy and Climate Change to emphasise its actual priorities – such a cut could only be taken on by severely reducing DECC’s staffing budget.
Green Alliance calculate that, once all protected spending is taken into account, cuts would leave the department with just £40m by 2018-19 for so-called ‘resource spending’, which largely consists of staff costs. The current budget for such costs is £402m in 2014-15.
The only large part of DECC capital spending that could be jettisoned would be to develop a demonstrator carbon capture and storage (CCS) plant at £1 billion. However, this would conflict with current Government energy policy to support CCS, renewables and new nuclear.
NFLA share the concerns of former Energy Minister Ed Davey and of leading independent energy specialists of what the devastating effects such deep cuts to staffing budgets will inevitably have. (2) A lack of in-house experts and officers will almost certainly lead to increases in utility bills for consumers as the energy market is unlikely to be adequately monitored and controlled by a much reduced department.
It is clear to the NFLA that UK Government energy policy is all over the place at the moment. In recent weeks alone the following has occurred:
- The new Energy Minister Amber Rudd has confirmed that subsidies to develop onshore wind facilities will be withdrawn, putting at risk thousands of jobs, substantial amounts of low carbon energy and one of the most dynamic industries in the country.
- Subsidies to other renewable sources of energy, particularly solar energy, are under threat, as are grants to increase energy efficiency programmes.
- The Government has decided not to provide any finance to keep one of the last deep-level coal-mines in the Yorkshire coalfields open, and has not provided any realistic low carbon employment alternatives for the miners and their communities affected by this decision.
- Lancashire County Council’s courageous decision to reject shale gas fracking near Preston has dealt a major blow to such developments. NFLA welcomes this decision as it believes the scientific, low level radiation and technical uncertainties around shale gas need to be more fully understood.
- There are major design and financial issues around EDF’s plans to develop a new nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point. The development is also subject to a legal challenge by the Austrian and Luxembourg Governments, Greenpeace Energy and nine other German and Austrian utilities. They argue new nuclear would distort the European energy market. NFLA shares such concerns.
With the Government still pledged to deliver huge cuts in carbon emissions over the next decade, and its own statutory climate advisers warning that post-2020 carbon cuts are under jeopardy; NFLA calls on the Chancellor, the Prime Minister and the Energy Minister to get round the table to sort out its priorities and genuinely protect low carbon energy policy.
NFLA calls for an urgent refocus of Government policy towards prioritising support for a wider mix of renewable energy sources, support Councils to deliver energy efficiency and new Local Authority Energy Service Companies, enable a move towards community energy programmes and above all, give up on new nuclear and fracking to prioritise clean, green decentralised energy. There is ample evidence across Europe that such a policy works.
NFLA Chair Councillor Mark Hackett said:
I applaud Green Alliance for producing a report which shows the calamity that is about to happen to UK energy policy. How on earth can DECC be an effective department if it loses 90% of its staff? The new Government does not appear to have any coherent sense of where it wants to take its energy strategy to deliver low carbon energy. These ridiculous levels of cuts will badly damage the UK’s energy policy, increase utility bills for the hard-pressed consumer and most concerning of all, will not deliver the necessary cuts to carbon emissions this country and the wider world desperately needs. George Osborne needs to heed the warnings of many energy experts and former Energy Minister Ed Davey or risk huge damage to the economy and our low carbon credibility.”
For more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary on 0161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) Green Alliance, ‘What new spending reductions could mean for DECC’, 3rd July 2015
(2) The Guardian, 3rd July 2015 http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/03/decc-staff-cuts-90-percent-threaten-uks-climate-change-plans-experts