A giant £100 billion black hole is predicted to dominate the coming year’s economic outlook for the taxpayer, judging by recent comments made by our new Chancellor, Philip Hammond. This eye-watering annual deficit represents a doubling of the national debt since the economic crisis of 2008.

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Naturally, the government will continue its slash and burn tactics to supposedly lower the national debt by making more cuts to the valuable social services that distinguish us as human beings.  The impending Autumn Statement is expected to announce the continued pursuit of policies (disguised as an economic strategy) that do not yield improvements to our collective quality of life, lead to economic recovery, strengthen our currency or even deliver the promise of balancing our national budget.

Failure to deliver on this last point in particular makes it abundantly clear from Mr Hammond’s Autumn Statement that the relentless pursuit of austerity is ideological, magically aspirational and zealously misguided.  Even Conservative Ian Duncan Smith accused the Government of balancing the books on the backs of the most vulnerable in society.

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The way out of this black hole is not by cutting social services.  It is by investing in important infrastructural projects like renewable energy and public transport networks, and increasing lending to creative, responsible entrepreneurs.  The old excuse that this government inherited the deficit from the previous one is tired, worn, and devoid of any responsibility or complicity.  The massive deficit inherited in 2010 was £76.6 billion, but the Tories have managed to increase this deficit to over £100 billion while destroying the quality of life for many of our most vulnerable citizens.

The latest BBC Panorama programme about Care Homes showed the appalling conditions that residents were subjected to at centres managed by the Morleigh Group.  The directors of this private care home operator lived in a large stately home, a stark contrast to the residents and attendants alike. In one example uncovered by the programme, care home attendants had to separate a bedpan from a neglected 90 year old patient’s buttocks because she had been sitting on it for so long, her buttocks had slipped into the pan.  The poignant and burning questions are:

– Why do we neglect our elderly when they took care to raise us from small infants?
– Why has taking care of our elderly, become something to be outsourced?  With the exception of hospice, surely our own families can look after each other?

Social services do not and should not deliver commercially attractive returns for taking care of our family members, providing medical assistance, public transport or other support services that may have once been provided by the community.

Clearly the government has money for the projects that they want to undertake.   For example –

  • Hinkley C Nuclear Power station, which will be funded to a great extent through the ‘Capacity Mechanism’, which basically means it will be financed by the taxpayer.
  • The extraction of shale gas from our land, a process that is not proven safe, can turn our water  into a toxic cocktail of hydrocarbon chemicals and is not expected to be economically attractive due to the poor quality of the extracted gas
  • the expansion of Heathrow, where the government should be challenged on the robustness of their traffic projections into the next 20 years, considering the availability of fossil fuels for our transportation and energy services, the certain increase in the cost of flying and with proper value for money analysis undertaken to consider alternatives, like travel by train and other public services.
  • the renewal of the Trident Nuclear Missile deterrant, at a cost of over £205 billion of tax payer money. The nature of a deterrent is that we must be attacked first.  In this age of information technology, can this government demonstrate the value for money to the taxpayer of this enormous investment that only works after the damage has been done?

This is one more  reason why the transition from fossil fuels is so important.  As we take more services like the provision of energy away from fossil fuels by building more renewable energy generation, we have more gas and oil to run other industries, like transportation, where energy prices are certain to rise due to scarcity.  Oil prices have already doubled since last February.  Conventional sources of cheap oil have disappeared and the growing cost of generating energy under the government’s current energy strategy can be solved with current, proven technologies.

We believe that the government needs to apply austerity to its own practices; to eliminate departmental waste, to be accountable for responsible spending of taxpayers’ money, and to invest our money in projects that are well run.  Our government seems to have sufficient funds for the military industrial complex and for short-sighted investments like Trident and Heathrow, so the money is there for a fully functioning welfare state should we choose to use it this to this end. Therefore we believe it is vanity projects like HS2 and Trident that must be sacrificed by Mr Hammond first, before cuts are made to our invaluable social welfare system.

The Age of the Atom was to herald a new dawn in humanity’s quest for energy. Euphoric reports at the time declared that this revolutionary new energy source was so abundant it would be “too cheap to meter“. Our energy worries, we were assured, were over forever…

History of course, has shown none of this naive optimism to be true, and sadly will it prove the same for our current cabinet’s total reliance on nuclear power as the basis of energy policy.

Hinkley is expected to cost between £18-24 billion to construct, of which UK taxpayers are expected to subsidise a significant portion. To compound matters, a substantial share of the profits generated will leave the country due to the plant being owned by French and Chinese investors. Worse still, a future based on nuclear power will maintain the centralised energy system we have now, and let’s not even get started on the cost of clean up, transport security and waste disposal that future generations will thank us for…

Similarly, nuclear weapons nuclear protestare an expensive and dangerous consumer of taxpayer money, and BHESCo is steadfastly against the renewal of Britain’s Trident defence system. We were very proud to join Caroline Lucas, Jeremy Corbyn, and the thousands of protesters in Trafalgar Square to voice our opposition to this £100 billion so-called deterrent, and were profoundly moved to see that so many people shared our view of a nuke-free future.

BHESCo suggests that all money intended to be invested in new nuclear power stations or weapons be transferred to the production of clean, renewable energy. Imagine what we could build with £100 billion? This money could be invested in all manner of new and proven technologies as well as going towards an electricity grid that can handle the distributed energy system we need in order to create real energy security.

The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones. It is time to say goodbye to our atomic past, and move toward a brighter, cleaner, and fairer future. We say No to Nuclear Power because this makes the most sense for the future inhabitants of our planet. We say No to Nuclear Power because it does not make sense for our country.

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The United Kingdom is the fourth richest country in the world. It is a cornerstone of the global economy, with billions of pounds of investment pouring in each year. We have a highly educated workforce, access to the most advanced technologies available, and have enjoyed tremendous (though diminishing) international influence ever since Thomas Newcomen invented the steam engine 300 years ago.

 

So why is the UK not a leading light in the quest towards a green and sustainable future?
Why, in 2012, of all 28 member states was the UK the third lowest producer of renewable energy in the European Union, ahead of only Luxembourg and Malta?

 

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It certainly isn’t due to an absence of means. According to figures from the National Audit Office, the Exchequer was able to find an astonishing £1,162 billion to support the banks during the financial crisis of 2008.

 

The British government’s response to a crisis it seems, is based less on the resources available than upon their idea of what is labelled a ‘crisis’. If the vested interests of the City of London are threatened for example, then evidently no expense will be spared to ensure its survival. If a crisis involves the survival of planet Earth however, and all the millions of species that depend on it, including us, then we see quite a different picture entirely.

 

As part of the Renewable Energy Directive agreed by the European states in 2009, the UK is committed to achieving 15% of its energy needs from sustainable sources by 2020. As a barometer of progress, we were supposed to have achieved 10% by 2010, but this target was missed. True, the UK has made much progress over recent years with the introduction of the Feed-in-Tariff and the Renewable Heat Incentive, but it is far from certain that we will reach our goal of 15% in five years from now.

 

One thing that is certain, is that the UK has not embraced the transition to a sustainable economy in the same way as our European neighbours. Iceland is able to supply 85% of the country’s housing with heat from geothermal energy.
Sweden leads the EU with 52% of its energy coming from renewable sources, followed by Latvia, Finland, and Austria which are able to generate a third of their energy needs sustainably.

 

So why does the UK have such an unambitious target only 15%, which many say will not be met by 2020? A major reason is surely our love-affair with nuclear power. The UK currently has 16 reactors with a total generating capacity of 10 gigawatts of electricity, and plans to increase this to 16GW with the first new reactors expected to be operational in the early 2020s. This new generation of nuclear power stations will require a total investment of at
least £60 billion, and that does not take into account the ‘nuclear clean-up market’ which is estimated at £70 billion at Sellafield alone. It is abundantly clear that our policy makers are determined to steer us towards a future that benefits the big corporations that inform them.

 

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Unfortunately for us however, nuclear is definitely not the answer. Often, the public is subject to a vociferous campaign of disinformation surrounding nuclear energy. The reality is that nuclear power poses major security and environmental risks, is heavily dependent on taxpayer subsidies, and generates deadly radioactive waste that remains dangerous for thousands of years. Furthermore, the processes involved in mining and enriching uranium, the construction and dismantling of a nuclear plant, and the transport and disposal of hazardous waste are anything but ‘low-carbon’.

 

So what does this mean for renewable energy in Britain, where our government are happy to spend £100 billion to renew a Trident Nuclear Defence system, while cutting subsidies to renewable energy? In the same way that the Civil Rights Movement was born of a frustration with government inertia, we too cannot stand idly by and wait for our leaders to show us the way to a sustainable future.

 

If the UK is to meet its green energy targets, then the momentum must come from the grassroots. In the absence of leadership from above, we must invest in renewables at a community level, and take control of our energy fut
ure. BHESCo is committed to establishing the first community owned micro-grid in Brighton and Hove, helping to set down a blueprint for others to follow, and moving the UK towards our targets for 2020 and onwards.

 

300 years after Newcomen’s steam engine, its time for a new revolution in England…

 

 


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