It’s been the political headache facing Labour for nearly a year – questions over exactly how their Green Prosperity Plan will be funded and delivered. The multiple climbdowns and the significant deliberate ambiguity were not enough to fend off their critics, who identified – rightly or wrongly – an area of vulnerability for the party.
The electoral and political implications are dominating the media, but what exactly does this now mean for the energy industry?
While the media has been focused on the level and sequencing of government funding for the Green Prosperity Plan, for industry this is arguably the less critical issue. Generators and others in the sector want policy certainty and ambition in order to be able to make the case to their boards and investors to deploy capital in the UK.
The 2030 target – even if it is recognised as being virtually impossible to deliver – provides this. While backsliding over the £28bn figure could be perceived as a signal that Labour is wavering on green investment, it’s the 2030 target that really matters. Recommitting to this yesterday was key. The question now is whether Labour is willing to take the bold steps required to deliver it…
However, the reality is that the political and media focus will simply – and we’re already starting to see this – shift to scrutiny of how this target will be delivered, with critics arguing that Labour now have a hugely ambitious target in place with no investment behind it to enable delivery. The political argument that the government and others will prosecute will be that either Labour are selling a vision to the electorate that they know cannot be delivered and so aren’t prepared for office, or that there will inevitably be ‘secret tax rises’ coming to fund this.
Further backsliding from Labour on the 2030 target should not be expected, but the risk of disagreements opening up within the party over it is unhelpful for industry particularly if enhanced media focus ends up driving up public scepticism over the right route to net zero.
The opportunity for industry now is to highlight even more clearly how it will be private capital that will do the heavy lifting to decarbonise the economy. As Labour – and the media – look even more closely at how power decarbonisation is achievable, now is the moment – in a highly political year – for industry to be explicitly showcasing the projects that will practically get the UK to net zero.
To achieve private sector delivery at pace, the case for non-financial supply side reforms that enable projects to move from plans to reality in order to achieve 2030 power decarbonisation becomes even stronger. Grid connections and planning reform; swifter, longer-term and more consistent policy decisions; the right fiscal environment to encourage investment are all being pushed.
Ed Miliband has spoken ambitiously about a ‘Covid taskforce’ approach to government, hitting the ground running from day one to deliver the Clean Energy Mission. Industry is getting the right noises from government with a recognition that it gets the scale of the challenge, but if there is any chance of coming even close to the target, these things are now non-negotiable. Labour has already notionally committed to acting on these things, but the industry’s ability to press for these changes at pace and ensure full accountability for delivery has arguably been strengthened significantly this week with funding now reduced.
While the ‘plan’ published yesterday provides a little more detail in some areas – particularly on the Local Power Plan – there are inevitably still large gaps and areas where industry is still lacking detail.
There are also still questions over exactly how key parts of Labour’s net zero vision – including carbon capture – will be funded.
This gives industry the chance to continue to shape the right pathway for delivery. Labour wants solutions – ideally with no or little costs attached – that will help the delivery of its Clean Energy Mission. This is the moment for industry to share thinking on how specific elements of the plan can be implemented, aligning business priorities with Labour’s language, structures and funding envelopes.