Thank you for contacting me about a green and fair recovery to the Covid-19 outbreak.
These have been very difficult times for the country and while it is paramount to protect jobs and the economy, I appreciate that questions are also being asked about the way the country does business in the future.
I agree that as we recover from Covid-19, the Government needs to deliver an economy which is stronger, greener, more sustainable and more resilient. By doing this, we will protect jobs and add many more employment opportunities. I was therefore pleased that, on 8 June, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced a Green Recovery working group, one of five new ‘recovery roundtables’ bringing together businesses, business representative groups and leading academics, to unleash Britain’s growth potential and help the economy recover from the pandemic. This group will explore how to capture the economic growth opportunities from the shift to net zero emissions.
Work on achieving this is already underway and, in the Chancellor's Summer Statement, I was pleased that he announced a £3 billion green investment package that could help support around 140,000 green jobs and upgrade buildings and reduce emissions. Furthermore, to pay for green improvements, including loft, wall and floor insultation, homeowners and landlords in England will be able to apply for vouchers from a £2 billion Green Homes Grant scheme this year which could save some households hundreds of pounds a year on their energy bills while creating thousands of jobs for tradespeople.
The Chancellor also announced a £1 billion programme aimed to make public buildings, including schools and hospitals, greener, helping the UK meet its ambitions of achieving net zero by 2050.
The UK has played a world-leading role in tackling climate change and the transition to Clean Growth, with the UK being the first country to legislate to eliminate our contribution to climate change by 2050, and the fastest in the G20 to cut emissions. Since 1990, the UK has cut emissions by more than 40 per cent while growing the economy by more than two thirds, and we are a world-leader in offshore wind.
At the same time, the Environment Bill is being introduced to protect and improve the environment for future generations, enshrining in law environmental principles and legally-binding targets, and the first progress report of the Government’s ambitious 25 Year Environment Plan found that 90 per cent of the priority actions have been delivered or are on track for delivery.
I know questions have been raised about support for certain sectors. In the case of airlines, for example, firms can draw upon a range of financial support during this challenging time, including billions of pounds worth of loans and guarantees, tax deferrals and the furlough scheme for workers. The ministerial-led international aviation taskforce is looking at the best ways to support the industry, recognising the unique challenges they are facing. Rightly, any potential intervention would need to represent value for money for taxpayers.
In exceptional circumstances, where a viable company has exhausted all options and its failure would disproportionately harm the economy, I understand the Government may consider support on a ‘last resort’ basis.
The UK remains committed to being a world leader in tackling air pollution. As we rebuild our economy in response to Covid-19, we have a chance to shape a cleaner and greener society. While early signs show air pollution has dropped during the outbreak, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has launched a call for evidence to ensure that they can fully understand the impact that Covid-19 is having on air quality for future policy development.
Building on considerable recent investments, Ministers have pledged to invest an additional £2 billion in cycling and walking and committed to publish a national cycling plan, as well as an updated Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy. The first stage of this £2 billion investment will be a £250 million emergency active travel fund which will deliver new pop-up cycle lanes with protected space for cycling, cycle and bus-only corridors, safer junctions and wider pavements. Furthermore, a £50 'Fix Your Bike Voucher' will be introduced, which is expected to help up to half-a-million people to bring bikes out of retirement.
In addition, Government investment is supporting the transition to electric vehicles, with grants available for ultra-low emission vehicles, as well as funding to support charge point infrastructure. Ministers are also consulting on bringing forward the end to the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars and vans from 2040 to 2035, or earlier if a faster transition appears feasible. Trials of rental electric scooters have been brought forward too.
One quarter of fuel poor households in England sadly include a resident over 60. Improving energy efficiency is the best long-term solution to tackle fuel poverty and I am therefore pleased that the Government is rightly taking steps to ensure low income, vulnerable households, including older people, are protected from living in a cold home. Since the Energy Company Obligation launched, more than 2 million households have benefited from energy efficiency measures. I welcome the Chancellor's announcement of a £2 billion Green Homes Grant scheme. Under this grant, which is up and running, homeowners and landlords can apply for vouchers to make their homes more energy efficient. The grants cover at least two thirds of the cost and up to £5,000. Eligible low-income households can receive a £10,000 voucher. It is estimated that this scheme could make 650,000 home more energy efficient and could save households up to £300 a year on bills.
I am pleased that public parks have stayed open throughout this crisis to enable people to access green spaces as spending time outdoors in natural spaces is important for our physical and mental wellbeing. The Government has published guidance on accessing green spaces safely which is available online at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-on-accessing-green-spaces-safely.
I have spoken with colleagues at HM Treasury about your suggestions for the Comprehensive Spending Review taking place this year. The Integrated Review and Comprehensive Spending Reviews will conclude in the autumn, although I am regrettably not in a position to pre-empt their conclusions. I am, however, assured by my colleagues that they are aware of the policy suggestions you raised.
Reducing carbon emissions and tackling climate change will continue to be priorities for me and my Ministerial colleagues.
You might also be interested to learn that I took part in the first virtual ‘The Time Is Now’ mass lobby, constituents from all around Penrith and The Border joined me to discuss climate issues in the constituency, the UK and globally: