Speaking at the House of Commons earlier today (November 29), Mr Osborne admitted that the UK economy is at risk of entering into a double-dip recession, saying “our debt challenge is greater than we thought”, adding that economic growth will be minimal, with an increase of just 0.7% forecast for 2012.

Setting out the Coalition’s strategy to deal with the struggling economy, Mr Osborne pledged to do “whatever it takes” to deal with the crisis.

In the statement, plans to fund 500 infrastructure projects, including power stations and waste facilities, from a £5bn fund were announced by the chancellor.

However, the leader of the Green Party Caroline Lucas has slammed the Government’s Autumn Statement as “dangerously colour blind on the green economy” and for providing a “cash boost for big polluters” and a “bias towards big business”.

As a result, Ms Lucas is arguing that Britain needs a Green New Deal programme which tackles the most polluting industries, while also offering more support of low carbon industries which she claims will help lift the UK out of recession.

She said: “This backwards and expensive merry-go-round shows that the Government is completely clueless on how to manage the low carbon revolution – and risks relegating the UK to the backseat when it comes to climate change and renewables.

“If we invested heavily now in a major Green New Deal programme to create new state-owned renewable energy and an increase in energy efficiency measures to help bring down bills, we could create hundreds of thousands of jobs, as well as remain internationally competitive in the green technology race.”

Environmental groups have also reacted with dismay at government plans to prioritise high carbon infrastructure over renewables and energy efficiency.

Commenting on the proposals laid out in the statement, conservation group the WWF has argued that while infrastructure spending is essential to boost growth, failure to invest in low-carbon and renewable energy infrastructure is a “missed opportunity”.

WWF head of public affairs Margaret Ounsley said: “It’s deeply disappointing to see this government continuting to see environmental protection as a burden and rewarding high carbon infrastructure. This is a myopic, short term strategy.

“The Government has a clear choice: take the opportunity and invest in the green economy, tackling both the economic and the climate crisis as one, or risk hard-won environmental improvements in the pursuit of short-term growth”.

Charity group Greenpeace executive director John Sauven was also unsupportive of the proposals saying it “destroyed any remaining credibility of the Coalition as a friend of green jobs, green growth and protection of the environment. His Autumn Statement is a polluter’s charter”.

Mr Sauven added: “It’s a huge lost opportunity. The country is crying out for growth, and the chancellor could have taken the lead to ignite the UK’s clean energy sector as other countries have done with theirs.

“Instead George Osborne is taking us backwards making our economic competitiveness weaker, our polluting emissions higher and eviscerating the countryside protection that we need to maintain our quality of life.”

It wasn’t all regarded as bad news, however, as recognition of the challenges faced by energy-intensive sectors was welcomed by businesses as a “small step in the right direction”, although concern surrounding carbon floor price still remains.

Commenting on the statement building supplier Tarmac director of sustainability, Dr Martyn Kenny, said: “The proposal that from April 2013 the climate change levy rebate is set to increase to 90% on electricity for energy intensive industries which enter voluntary Climate Change Agreements is a small step in the right direction. However, it is a long way from compensating for the full effects of the carbon floor price.”

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI), also described the statement as showing recognition from the Government that the UK’s energy-intensive users need help to deal with the increases in manufacturing energy costs from the carbon floor price and electricity market reform.

A CBI spokesperson said: “We now need to understand how this money will be allocated to those most at risk.

“It’s good that the Government has committed to review the impact of its electricity market reforms on energy-intensive firms. Ensuring these industries are included in future energy policy is an important part of the UK continuing to lead the rest of the world on climate change.”

Also commenting on the Green Deal, the CBI added: “The Green Deal should be a win-win, by providing a real boost for manufacturers, installers, and retailers, while helping people save on their energy bills. The Government is right to heed the CBI’s call for incentives, and we should ensure that this money is used to help kick-start the market.”

Also faring well in the Statement was South West Water (SWW), whose customers heard they will receive a £50 reduction on their annual water bill, which is one the highest in the country.

SWW chief executive, Chris Loughlin, said: “This is great news for our customers. We are delighted the government is committed to tackling the unfairness which has seen 3% of the UK’s population pay for the clean-up of 30% of the nation’s bathing waters.

“We have worked closely alongside MPs of all parties, consumer groups and the region’s media to highlight the south-west’s case at the highest levels. Now we look forward to helping the government implement this annual reduction from April 2013.”

Carys Matthews

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