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Monthly digest with Mark Smith – October 2021

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Expert Opinion
November 1, 2021

Is the UK government’s green agenda going far enough?

With the opening of the Glasgow climate conference, COP26, yesterday, there’s no better time to discuss the importance of innovation and investment in achieving the ambitious future climate targets. As COP26 President, the UK has been given an enormous opportunity to showcase its leadership and commitment to the newly published Net Zero Strategy.

A year on from the launch of the Ten Point Plan, the UK has attracted £5.8bn investment in green projects along with the creation of 56,000 high-quality green jobs. According to the plan, the government will mobilise £12bn of investment over the next decade. Initially, this sounds like a phenomenal amount of money. However, this is over a ten year period and therefore just £1.2 bn a year. Considering that current government spending has surpassed £1 trillion a year (£1053.2 billion), this green investment roughly accounts for 0.1%. Is the government genuinely serious about the green agenda if it only invests 0.1% of spending? I think not.

Consider the national effort to address the Covid emergency. Why is the government not thinking as big? I believe this is a more significant threat than the global pandemic. Instead of leading the world as the host of COP26, we’re missing out on a golden opportunity. While I favour the Ten Point Plan, I think it’s not nearly bold enough.

While the government lacks an ambitious plan of action to achieve a greener economy as I’d like, it has recently announced it would back Ford’s £230m investment plan for electric vehicle manufacturing. This investment will not only secure 500 jobs but, most importantly, the UK’s long term future at the heart of the automotive industry. Ford’s ongoing commitment to the UK gives me hope the government won’t take this as a one-off investment. Instead, it will support similar schemes to guarantee the automotive industry move towards a greener future.

At last month’s Conservative party conference, the Prime Minister pledged to shift the country to a high-wage, high-productivity economy. According to Johnson, the shortage of HGV drivers we’ve been experiencing isn’t that tragic if we think that ending low-wage immigration will indeed put us on the right path to achieve this ambitious goal. But where’s the detailed plan that’s going to allow the government to achieve this strategic objective? The recent shortages don’t paint a good picture of their ability to get there. Since the Brexit election in 2015, there’s been plenty of time to plan for shortages of labour. However, did they not foresee this coming, or did they simply ignore it, hoping it wouldn’t turn into such a big problem?

If we want a high-wage, high-skills Britain, the ambition must be backed up by real actions on upskilling and investment. Otherwise, we aren’t seizing the opportunity in front of us and risk being left behind.

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