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Ed Davey: coalition critics don't recognise our 'green achievements'

The public has failed to recognise the government’s achievements on the green agenda and is too focused on internal party politics, according to energy secretary Ed Davey.

The minister said that “people focus on the disagreements” within government, rather than recognising the coalition’s success on energy policy.

He told Construction News: “I’m not trying to suggest that there aren’t debates in government and that we all see eye to eye on everything, but I think sometimes people focus on the disagreements and they fail to see what has been and is being achieved.

“So, rather than pointing at colleagues who don’t share my more ambitious approach on the green agenda, I’d actually like to say we’ve achieved a lot together.”

Mr Davey was speaking after being interviewed by UK Green Building Council chief executive Paul King at Ecobuild.

Mr King had questioned the minister on energy-efficiency in the UK, after the minister delivered a speech on the future of government’s green policies, including the Green Deal and the Energy Companies Obligation.

In December last year, the government caused a storm after it announced an extension to the timeframe for ECO from two years to four.

The construction industry hit out at the changes, with energy suppliers now required to make only 100,000 solid-wall insulation installations over the four-year period, despite 2012 seeing 80,000 installations alone.

The minister spoke about a recent consultation carried out by the DECC looking into the proposed extension of ECO to 2017.

The department published an initial impact assessment on employment and costs alongside the consultation [see table above for employment impact].

This compared the impact of proceeding with ECO without the government changes or ‘business as usual’ (option 1), to the potential impact to jobs and cost with the government’s changes (option 2).

Mr King told the minister: “We ought to have a lot in common… and yet there is a sense that there is a tension.”

He added that “day in and day out” businesses were failing to get the clarity and certainty on government policy that they asked for.

Mr Davey said: “I was extremely conscious when we reviewed ECO that it would result in real companies, real jobs and real contracts begin put on hold, which is not what we want to see.

“But we had to do it because we had to make sure the costs were under control.

“But, in order to compensate and show that commitment to making sure the future was much more certain and much more stable, we’ve got this long[er] approach now out to 2017, which is the longest approach that any scheme like this has ever had.”  

Speaking after the discussion, Mr King told Construction News: “It’s the same line that he’s been speaking since December. I think his department tried to make the best of a bad job.

“We all know that we’ve seen a dilution and a halving of the commitment to ECO and as a result of that a fraction of the number of solid wall insulations [that were projected to happen under the original impact assessment] are going to happen, so there was nothing new and it’s obviously had a big impact on the industry.”

On potential challenges that Mr Davey and the Department of Energy and Climate Change face in the run up to the 2015 election, he told Construction News: “A lot of the key building blocks of the success of the coalition are now in place.

“We’ve got royal assent for the Energy Act… and I think sometimes people underestimate how significant and radical that is – it’s creating the world’s first ever low-carbon electricity market and it’s actually got huge cross-party support – only eight MPs voted against it.

“If one looks at the work I am doing at an international level, I’ve got coalition agreement for the work that I’m doing to drive the EU to be at the most ambitious point of any other member state, which will then feed into the world debate on climate change.”

Construction News also pressed the minister on the future of Hinkley Point C and asked what the government had planned in the event of a negative decision from the European Commission on state aid approval.

He said: “I don’t see why they will. The investigation, which is ongoing, is exactly as planned and we actually welcome it.

“We want it to be considered, it’s the right thing to do [because] we believe in the state aid process to ensure people aren’t unnecessarily subsidising [the project].”

Asked whether the government would renegotiate a strike price if the EC did not approve the case, the minister was unable to respond.

A DECC spokeswoman said: “We are confident that we have a robust legal case for the Hinkley Point C investment contract.

“This confidence does not come with complacency though and it is clear that we need to continue making our arguments to the commission and encourage others to do so.

“In the unlikely event that the commission did not approve the case, we would consider all options available to us.”

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