Autumn statement 2014: What it means for green business

"Britain is back on course," proclaimed George Osborne earlier today, but environmental announcements were in short supply as the Chancellor delivered his final Autumn Statement before the General Election.

On the plus side for green businesses, Osborne confirmed flood defence spending plans, with £2.3bn of funding for more than 1,400 new flood defence projects across the UK. But opposition parties, green groups and the independent Committee on Climate Change have already warned that this is still a long way short of what is required to tackle escalating climate risks. (Scroll down for full Autumn Statement document)

Today’s mini-Budget got little better from there. As part of the government’s grand plan to establish a “northern powerhouse”, Osborne unveiled details of a new ‘Sovereign Wealth Fund’ for the North of England, obtaining its funds from shale gas proceeds – which will inevitibly face fierce criticism from green groups.

Spending cuts

In what he called “a long-term economic plan on course to prosperity”, Osborne spoke of the Government’s support for business and infrastructure. The Chancellor confirmed the funding for lending scheme will be extended by a further year – good news for cleantech start-ups, perhaps.

But underlying all of this was an admission by Osborne that spending cuts will have to continue in the next Parliament, which could have a detrimental effect on the enforcement of environmental regulations by Decc and Defra; such as the UK’s waste strategy

On jobs, Osborne confirmed that unemployment is continuing to fall, with an average of 1,000 jobs being created for each day that the coalition Government has been in office. A recent report revealed green energy generates 10 times as many jobs as fossil fuels

Osborne went on to announce details of a range of tax breaks for North Sea oil & gas; with the Chancellor claiming that a falling oil price is good news for families but a challenge for the “Great British industry” that is the oil industry. 

Little of substance

Overall, this Autumn Statement contained very little that green businesses did not already know and will undoubtedly be seen by many as another missed opportunity.

Ahead of Osborne’s speech, edie drew up an Autumn Statement wishlist of the hopes and expectations of sustainability leaders, industry representatives and green groups. A better long-term strategy for sustainability, rapid decarbonisation and a move towards a fully circular economy were all on the list – but it appears Christmas isn’t coming early for green businesses this year.

This ignorance of climate change is nothing new from the so-called ‘Greenest Government Ever’. Osborne has a track-record of sidelining debates on clean energy, fracking and the low-carbon economy. And it was just a couple of months ago that Prime Minister David Cameron made no mention of these green issues in his final conference speech, other than to announce that the UK is ‘leading, not following, on climate change’.

The Autumn Statement comes on the same day that researchers have revealed the UK could well experience the hottest year on record this year. And in the wake of that damning IPCC climate change report, surely it won’t be long before the Government makes ‘green growth’ a national priority.

 Full Document: Autumn Statement

 Luke Nicholls

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