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Green Investment Bank

Volume 528: debated on Tuesday 24 May 2011

Today I am publishing detailed plans for a green investment bank, building on the announcements that the Deputy Prime Minister made yesterday. Copies of the document will be placed in the Libraries and will be available to download from the BIS website. I would like to take the opportunity from inform the House of these proposals.

The UK will be the first country in the world to create a bank dedicated to the greening of the economy. This Government are committed to ensuring that the UK makes a successful transition to a low-carbon economy. This will be a big challenge. The UK is committed by law to a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2025. Over the coming decades, much of the UK’s energy, transport and waste infrastructure will have to be revolutionised or even rebuilt in order to achieve the ambition of decarbonised electricity, low-emission cars and an end to landfill. This transition will involve considerable costs, but also considerable benefits if new enterprise can seize the opportunities presented by the green economy. The task for our Government is to ensure that these benefits exceed the costs.

Vital to achieving a successful transition is the development of well-designed, long-term and stable policies. They are needed to provide the incentive for businesses to invest in new green infrastructure, which by its very nature repays the investment only over many years. To this end the Government have introduced a carbon price floor, proposals on electricity market reform, the green deal for energy efficiency in buildings, a major waste policy review and new initiatives to encourage the roll-out of electric vehicles.

However, the lack of available finance could be a limiting factor. Detailed research and market analysis have established the need for an institution to address market failures that are constraining the flow of finance. The proposals published today set out a vision for a new and enduring institution—the world’s first dedicated national green investment bank—to complement the existing policy landscape.

The green investment bank’s mission will be to accelerate private sector investment, with an initial remit to focus on relatively high-risk projects that are otherwise likely to proceed slowly or not at all. It will work to a “double bottom line” of both achieving significant environmental impact and making financial returns delivering value for money. It will also operate independently and at arm’s length from Government, who will agree its strategic long-term priorities. Initial market analysis suggests that the early contenders to be priority sectors for the bank are offshore wind, industrial energy efficiency and waste, but a wider range of energy and other activities could become relevant over time.

The new institution will need to comply with state aid rules. Therefore, the proposals that I am publishing today will need to be approved by the European Commission before we can establish the bank. The time to act is now, so in order to make rapid progress, from April 2012, my department will start to make direct, state aid-compliant investments in green infrastructure projects. Investments could be in the form of equity, subordinated debt or senior debt on a pari passu basis. In due course, we will transfer these investments to the new institution.

I am also creating a green bank advisory group, comprising independent finance experts, who will advise Government on the setting up and strategic direction of the new institution. Sir Adrian Montague has very kindly agreed to chair this advisory group.

As the Chancellor set out in the Budget this year, the initial capitalisation of the GIB will be £3 billion and the bank will invest with and through the private sector and tackle risks that the private sector cannot adequately finance. In this way, the bank will mobilise projects significantly in excess of the Government’s contribution. With the funding provided in this Parliament the GIB could mobilise an extra £15 billion of private investment. We do not envisage that this level of activity will require a large institution—an estimated 50 to 100 professional staff during this Parliament. Proposals have been made to locate the headquarters in, among others, London, Edinburgh and Bristol, and a decision will be taken in due course based on their ability to deliver the aims of the bank.

The Government will enable the GIB to have borrowing powers from 2015-16 and once debt is falling as a percentage of GDP, which will allow it to scale up its operations significantly at a time when the financing need is greatest. We are not seeking at this stage to be prescriptive about which form borrowing should take or, more generally, about the bank’s products or structure. Once state aid approval is achieved, we will move to enshrine the institution’s enduring status in legislation.

In conclusion, setting up a bank of this kind is a major undertaking. There is much work to be done to build and grow the green investment bank, and the Government look forward to updating the House on further milestones in future.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, but although the Deputy Prime Minister announced this policy yesterday and the statement was timed for 12.30 pm today, I had not received a copy by 10 minutes to 1, and did not receive it until five minutes to 1.

A successful green investment bank can make a significant contribution to developing low-carbon technologies and enabling British companies to succeed in the low-carbon green technology markets of the future. That is why the green investment bank was in Labour’s manifesto. Will the Business Secretary confirm that it has taken a year of infighting to get to this stage? Is it not true that the Government are at odds over green policy, and will he confirm that only a month ago he tried to block the adoption of the carbon emissions targets announced this week? So much for “the greenest Government ever”!

Progress is welcome, but have the Government not already taken a series of decisions that have damaged investment in green technologies and activities? Did they not set feed-in tariffs that encouraged many investors into green energy and then suddenly change the rules, leaving investors high and dry and deeply cynical about the Government’s commitment to green technology? Is the Business Secretary aware that the target for zero-carbon homes by 2016 was encouraging new and innovative business approaches to architecture, building technology, skills training and offset technologies? It was already encouraging a supply chain to make our homes greener. Now that has been changed by the flip-flops of Government decision making. Is it not true that when the Severn barrage was abandoned the Government ruled out any tidal investment for five years, so that when this country turns to tidal power we will end up relying on foreign technology?

Despite all the talk of private investment, where is the evidence for it? Is it not damning that the Pew Environment Group’s report in March stated that investment in renewable technology in the UK crashed from £11 billion in 2009 to £3.3 billion in 2010—due, it says, to political uncertainty. That saw the UK drop from sixth to 13th in the ranking of countries encouraging green investment—another example of the Tories letting go Labour’s green legacy.

As with the green deal and the electricity market reforms, green businesses know enough about the green investment bank to be excited, but not enough to start planning investments and changing business models. Does the Business Secretary not accept that the bank will not work without much greater consistency, certainty and clarity about Government policies for green energy and the low-carbon economy than we have seen to date?

When will the green investment bank legislation be brought forward? Will he publish draft legislation so that all those interested can help shape it and ensure that the bank truly does become a long-term part of the infrastructure? How will the bank be staffed, and will he ensure that it is not an offshoot of the Treasury or his Department? Will he learn the lessons of Labour’s technology strategy board, where private sector leadership and real operational independence have helped to contribute to its considerable success? Given non-governmental organisations’ role in shaping all parties’ policies on this issue, will the Secretary of State at least consider allowing an NGO representative to join in the work of the advisory board that he proposes to set up?

Will the Secretary of State tell the House why the bank will be barred from raising its own finance until 2015 at the earliest? What does he say to the CBI, which made it clear at the time of the Budget that the investment

“is welcome, but the bank should have powers to borrow from the outset to give investors confidence.”

Has the Treasury imposed this rule? If so, is that not another case of the Government allowing their preferred reckless approach to deficit reduction to take priority over the investment in jobs and growth that would make it easier to get the deficit down?

Can the Secretary of State confirm that, as of today, he does not even know whether the activities of the green investment bank will be on or off the public balance sheet? And is it not essential that that is clarified at the earlier possible opportunity? Does he not recognise that denying early investment in fledgling green industries will hinder their ability to create and expand into new markets? Does he agree that, above all, the UK needs long-term investment in the innovative, entrepreneurial companies that have the potential to become the pace setters and global market leaders of the future?

Does the Secretary of State recognise the risk that the available funds could easily be absorbed by major energy supply companies—companies that, relatively speaking at least, have access to capital—which would invest largely in the installation of established technologies, often supplied by overseas companies? Does he recognise that that risk could prevent UK-based innovators and suppliers from winning market share and developing the established technologies of the future? What assurances can be given that the bank will focus not only on the areas of activity named by the Deputy Prime Minister yesterday, but on the less mature technologies that remain unmentioned, such as solar and marine energy?

There is clearly a balance to be struck between major infrastructure investment and all the activities of innovative companies, but will the Secretary of State tell us how he intends to ensure, in the legislation that will set out the green investment bank’s remit, that he will strike the right balance between those activities?

Finally, given the huge uncertainty and inconsistency that the Government have shown over the past year, can the Business Secretary set out how he intends to create greater confidence in green industry companies about the future direction of Government policy? There was precious little about that in the Government’s growth plan, but without that market confidence none of the high hopes that we all share for the green investment bank will come to fruition.

Order. Before I ask the Secretary of State to reply, I make the point that I allowed the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham) to reach his conclusion because I saw that he was getting towards it, but we cannot again have a situation in which the response to a statement is longer than the statement.

I take it that, despite the slightly carping tone of the response, the Opposition do support this proposal. It is important that they support it, because the concept of the green investment bank is that it should be an enduring institution that lasts through successive Parliaments. It is important that we have all-party support for what we are doing.

The right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham) seems to be claiming credit for this policy, which leaves me with a very simple question: why, in 13 years, did Labour not do it? The demand was there and there were institutional finances looking for such an institution, but it never happened. Why did the Labour Government not do it? They did have a financial vehicle to fund infrastructure investment: the private finance initiative. The whole point about PFI was that it was off balance sheet and the debt was hidden. It was not independently assessed as the green investment bank will be, and as a result numerous institutions, including hospitals and schools, have been lumbered with debts that they cannot manage. Our proposal is a soundly based financial institution leading with equity risk capital, which is what this kind of investment requires.

The Government present this, and I am a Business Secretary proud to lead on such an environmental initiative. The right hon. Gentleman referred to something I said earlier about carbon objectives. We must obviously strike a balance between promoting new green industries and jobs, which are absolutely crucial for growth, and taking proper account of energy-intensive industries, several of which are well represented on the Opposition Benches, such as the steel, ceramics and chemicals industries. Of course we must take those into account and manage the process by which the expansion of green industries takes place alongside proper regard for those industries. I am surprised that he is so insensitive to an important sector of industry that should be of concern to many of his Back Benchers.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the timing of legislation. Legislation will be initiated once the state aid process has been completed, and we hope that that will take place rapidly.

The right hon. Gentleman asked specifically about less mature technologies, and he is quite right that there is a spectrum of activities of varying degrees of risk and maturity. There are institutions, including the excellent technology strategy board, to take on early stage technologies, and there are bodies such as the Carbon Trust to deal with early stage activities. The green investment bank has a specific role and mandate for projects that are high risk, but none the less mature and ready for commercial investment.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the scale of the activity. I do not think that most people would regard £15 billion of investment as trivial, and such an undertaking by the end of this Parliament is very ambitious. He says, “Well, why don’t you just borrow more?” But that is the problem. We have an exceptionally high level of debt in relation to our GDP, and it is a painful process working it down, which is what the Government have been doing. It is frivolous and irresponsible to say that we can deal with those problems simply by borrowing more and adding to the debt.

I welcome this excellent statement, because it describes an institution wholly appropriate to the needs of Britain, but will the green investment bank be able to support small and medium-sized businesses in a significant way? They are often the drivers of innovation.

It will be difficult to support small and medium-sized enterprises directly—but there are other mechanisms for doing so. One area of investment will be industrial energy efficiency, and through the aggregation of projects, SMEs might well be part of that.

The CBI has expressed concern about the dangers of the Government’s overall green strategy inhibiting manufacturers’ ability to provide the necessary green infrastructure. May I seek reassurance from the Minister that he will fight resolutely on behalf of manufacturing industry to sustain that capacity to deliver in this country?

Yes I will fight, and do fight, resolutely for manufacturing industry, which of course is now seeing significant growth. It is leading this country out of recession, and the CBI has very strongly made the point to me about the need for the manufacturing sector in green industries, and the need to safeguard the industries with energy-intensive plants, too.

I, too, very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. How will larger organisations be encouraged through the process to work with smaller, innovative technology companies, such as Ceres Power and Riomay in my constituency?

That complements the earlier question about how we integrate SMEs into the process. The fact is that the green investment bank will predominantly be concerned with very large-scale projects, and that is partly where the market failure lies—in mobilising large amounts of capital. In practice, however, large-scale projects can involve combinations of small-scale enterprises, and of course SMEs will also be an important part of the supply chain—particularly, for example, in offshore wind, which is a crucial dimension.

The Deputy Prime Minister, in his speech yesterday, said that the green investment bank might be used to deliver the first stages of the green deal. A couple of months ago, however, the Energy Secretary wrote to the WWF stating that he was confident that there was an appetite in the finance community to lend for the green deal, and that he had concerns about using the green investment bank for it. Will the Secretary of State outline why the policy has changed?

There has been no change to the policy. The green deal has a very sound business model, it will proceed and it will be successful. We do not rule out the possibility of the green investment bank complementing and working with its activities.

I know that my right hon. Friend said in his statement that he does not want to be prescriptive about the nature of the bank’s borrowing or structures, but will he look seriously at the recommendations of Ben Warren from Ernst and Young, who told the Environmental Audit Committee that

“it was crucial to not only focus on big investors when looking to raise capital, but also to work on a structure that allows individual citizens to invest in the GIB”?

That may well be one of the ways in which the green investment bank will be involved in the longer run—once it is securely established. Large numbers of people will no doubt want to invest, through individual savings accounts for example, and that could well be a product that the bank eventually produces. We certainly do not rule that out, and we want to encourage creativity.

Given that the green investment bank is being set up to promote new green technology, can the Secretary of State confirm that it will not be used to support nuclear, because nuclear is not new, because many of us do not believe it is green, and above all, because such support would clearly constitute a public subsidy?

The initial analysis suggests that nuclear power would not be an appropriate sector for the bank’s investment, but in the very long run we are not ruling out particular possibilities, including nuclear. It is not part of the bank’s immediate planning, however.

Today seems to be playing an important role in Labour’s revisionist history. This morning in Westminster Hall I listened to an Opposition Member claim that Labour was the saviour of post offices—

Order. The hon. Gentleman will resume his seat. [Interruption.] Order. We are pressed for time, and questions are about the policy of the Government, not of the Opposition. I have made the point several times; I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman had heard it by now.

Historically, whatever services the Government decide to offer, the private sector tends to withdraw from them, so what steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that the green investment bank complements private sector investment in green technologies and does not merely replace it?

The bank will not replace such investment. The whole purpose of our extensive market analysis has been to identify the areas where the private sector is not investing and will not invest. The advisory committee is being established, we have appointed the chairman, and it will give us much more specific guidance on how to get the right balance between the commercial and environmental criteria.

The ceramic industry in my city of Stoke-on-Trent will be listening and watching very carefully as the green investment bank develops, but my question is specifically about an engineering firm in my constituency that was looking to manufacture the gearing systems for refurbishing wind turbines. It had no joy from Advantage West Midlands, and it has had no joy from the local enterprise partnership, because it has no funds, so can the Secretary of State reassure me, and the firm, that the green investment bank will be on its feet quickly, and will not be so prescriptive that the company might just as well go to a moneylender, because the terms and conditions will be so tight?

I have already said that loans can start to be made from roughly April 2012. There will be substantial activity, and the firm in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency may well be a successful supplier to the industry, but if I were him I would not be too negative about the other sources of finance. The regional growth fund is entering its second tranche, and if it is a good company with a good project, and if there is a good LEP, it will be eligible for that money.

I strongly welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s announcement today—especially if the green investment bank ends up in Bristol, where it can take advantage of Gloucestershire’s expertise in financial services. Will he look positively at allowing the bank to finance, or to play a part in financing, the green deal? That would send a positive reassurance to investors in green deal businesses.

An Opposition Member has already asked me a variant of that question, and I have made it very clear that the green deal is proceeding. It is a successful business model, and we understand the mechanisms by which large-scale investment will be forthcoming, but we certainly do not rule out the possibility of the green investment bank complementing it.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on getting to the end of his statement—for a minute I thought he was going to need a wind turbine inserted to pep him up. It is not possible to pick winners in this area, and a great deal of investment is needed in the research and development of new technologies, so will the green investment bank just pick winners or will it be involved in research and development, accepting that sometimes such projects will not come to fruition?

Any business organisation making project choices is trying to pick winners, and that is what the bank will be trying to do. It will try to get a return for the economy and for society through environmental improvements, so of course it will have to make choices and pick winners. New technologies are being developed through the technology strategy board, we have announced a couple of technology innovation centres—another will be announced later this week—and they will develop the pioneering technologies to which I think the hon. Gentleman is referring.

I congratulate the Business Secretary on bringing forward this proposal, and I hope that the bank will come to York and north Yorkshire. May I ask for a commitment from him—that in trying to resolve one environmental problem he does not inadvertently create another? Will he assure the House that the business and environmental cases for offshore wind turbines, in particular, will meet the strictest and most stringent conditions?

It will indeed do that. As I indicated in my statement, there is what we call a double bottom line. The projects must be commercially attractive, and we have to decide what the rate of return would be. They must be economically viable. They must also, at the same time, make an environmental contribution. Getting that trade-off will not be easy, and it will be one of the important early tasks of the bank. I will undertake to add York to the list of cities looking for such an opportunity.

I welcome the green investment bank. Will the Secretary of State confirm, however, that the EU Commission has written to the Government expressing its concerns, under state aid rules, that the Government’s proposals in the electricity market reform for contracts for different feed-in tariffs and a floor price for carbon may constitute a subsidy for nuclear? If it has done so, will he make the letter available in the Library?

I cannot confirm that. If the information is available, I am sure we can pursue it in the proper way. As it happens, I met the Competition Commissioner last week and he did not refer to that, but he is alerted to the green investment bank state aid application, and he will deal with it professionally, I am sure.

One of the crucial things for investors in the green investment bank will be certainty in understanding signals to the market. I understand that investors in bioethanol plants are uncertain as to where the renewable fuels obligation is taking them in this investment climate. Will the Government undertake to make the bank really work by ensuring that investors in that technology have certainty about their future when it comes to Government policy?

As I said, we are trying to create a stable framework—what is sometimes called a regulatory asset base—against which long-term investment decisions can be made. We have heard several references to the electricity market review and feed-in tariffs. The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), is involved in the process of establishing a clear set of rules. The green investment bank will sit alongside those clear policy frameworks in order to ensure that large-scale investment takes place.

If the Secretary of State is considering the location of the green investment bank in its ability to deliver, he must surely take seriously the bid from the city of Nottingham because of our combination of financial services and low-carbon business innovation. Will he or his officials agree to meet a delegation from Nottingham so that we can overwhelm him with our case?

As I say, we have not come to a decision on the ideal location, and we are certainly open to good, new suggestions. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in Nottingham will have to think about whether, for example, they have a sufficient concentration of project finance specialists; I am sure that they have.

I would hope that throughout the UK there will be real enthusiasm for the announcement that by 2015 there will be £18 billion of investment in green industries. Can the Secretary of State add to that enthusiasm by sharing his vision of what sector of the economy green industries may represent and the number of jobs that that will bring to Britain? In addition, our tidal and wind can be linked with projects such as the European renewable energy project and solar power from the south of Europe, thus transforming the whole of our energy economy.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to sketch out the scale of what green industries are and can become. We estimate that some 800,000 people, perhaps more, are already employed directly in green economy-related activities, and I understand that that will expand substantially. I hope later this week, in a more wide-ranging comment, to add some more information for his purposes.

Is it still the Government’s intention that the fossil fuel levy money sitting in a bank account in Scotland will be rolled into the green investment bank?

I did not follow fully where the hon. Gentleman was going, but, no, as I understand it that is not the intention. The £3 billion contribution from the Government is not tied to any specific source.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement, particularly his commitment to the long-standing, enduring nature of the green investment bank. May I urge him, however, to set a clear time scale for when a decision on location will be made? I fear that once the bank has been incubated in Victoria street, its location may be decided more by inertia than by examination of the excellent business cases that have already been given to him, such as the one from Edinburgh.

There will be a proper process, and it is important that we consider carefully all serious applications on their merits. I commend my hon. Friend and his colleagues in Edinburgh for the high level of professionalism that they have brought to bear on their application. They have met me and my departmental officials and have taken great interest in it, and I commend their approach.

I welcome the progress that is reflected in the published plans and in the statement, and I hope that we can rely on much of their promise. Can the Secretary of State assure us that the green investment bank will be open and accessible to all the devolved regions; that no project or company will be disqualified on the grounds that its project has a cross-border character, which would be natural and necessary in Northern Ireland; that nobody will be disqualified on the grounds that their project has been funded by devolved Administrations; and that such funding would not be the subject of a qualifying precondition?

The bank is a UK-wide institution that will apply in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, so I do not see any problems of that kind. As regards the cross-border aspects, the hon. Gentleman raises an interesting legal question that I will need to look at carefully.

I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. He mentioned future milestones in the setting up of the bank, one of which will be its location. At the risk of exposing him to a civic beauty parade from all around the Chamber, he mentioned three cities, two of which are political capital cities that already have many national institutions. Is there not a clear and compelling case for the new green investment bank to go to the green capital of the United Kingdom—the city of Bristol?

I am not sure that I am yet in a position to be a beauty parade judge, but they are all beautiful cities, including Bristol.

Like other colleagues, I note that the Secretary of State is still considering where to base the green investment bank, and I see that there is a possibility of its going to Bristol. May I ask him to look across the Severn river and base the HQ in south Wales, given that investment in the Severn barrage has been stalled?

This is slightly in danger of getting out of control, but I compliment the hon. Gentleman on his nerve in pursuing it.

May I give an unalloyed welcome to the fact that we are to have a green investment bank? It is great news. As someone who is very much involved in the third sector environmentally, the one aspect on which I would push the Secretary of State a bit further is the need for third sector co-operation. That sector has been very hard hit by some other Government policies. I am also a little worried by one of his previous answers when he said that small and medium-sized companies will not be eligible for much of the funding.

I did not say that they were not eligible; I referred to the fact that the initial round was likely to involve large-scale projects. However, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his very positive comments. As for the third sector, I did not respond to the point made by the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham) about participation in the advisory board, which we will certainly reflect on. It was a helpful contribution.

Since 2004, the US Treasury has had the facility to issue up to $2 billion in green bonds to enhance the green economy in the United States, and since 2007 the European Investment Bank has issued more than €1 billion in climate awareness bonds. Is not it a real lost opportunity that the Secretary of State has been unable to persuade the Chancellor to keep to his pre-election commitment to introduce green bonds in the United Kingdom?

As I said, there is a variety of possible ways of raising funding, one of which is obviously the capital markets. If and when the institution goes to the capital markets, the investment could well take the form of bonds marketed in the way the hon. Gentleman describes. I am sure that we should draw on those experiences.