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Covid-19: Green Economic Recovery

Volume 678: debated on Tuesday 21 July 2020

What steps his Department is taking to ensure a (a) green and (b) resilient economic recovery from the covid-19 outbreak. (905056)

The Prime Minister has made clear our intention to build back greener. We are taking action to deliver on that commitment, including through a commitment of over £3 billion to reduce emissions from our buildings across the UK, £800 million to promote carbon capture from power stations and industry, and a further £100 million being invested in R&D in direct air capture technologies.

I am delighted that the Chancellor focused on creating green jobs in his summer economic update. Does my right hon. Friend agree that launching a multi-billion pound drive to improve the energy efficiency of homes will not only be good for creating jobs and driving us towards our net zero target but will save people money on their energy bills?

My hon. Friend is exactly right. Our £3 billion investment in energy efficiency could support up to 140,000 green jobs. The £2 billion green homes grant will upgrade over 600,000 homes, saving households up to £600 a year on their energy bills.

I agree that it is great to have jobs created. Insulating homes creates jobs across all regions of the UK, yet right now it is having the opposite effect. Labour has been contacted by insulation businesses who are experiencing cancelled work as clients now want to wait until September, when green homes grant money is available. Will the Minister fix this problem, and fix it now, by stating that jobs done in July and August can claim green homes grant funding in September?

The hon. Lady asks a very pertinent question. The Chancellor set out a £3 billion programme, and of course it will take time before that money is fully deployed. As well as the green homes upgrade, we have committed £320 million to the heat networks investment project, which is very relevant to the kind of work that she has described.

With the Government having committed to invest in the bioscience sector in York, making it the heart of the green new deal, they are now trying to make that conditional on a local government reorganisation that is not only deeply unpopular but is also, frankly, unworkable. In the light of comments that York’s economy will be the second-worst hit in the country, with unemployment rising to as high as 28%, will the Minister instead now bring forward that investment, to prevent mass unemployment in my city, to prevent unnecessary economic pain and to kick-start investment in green-collar jobs?

As the hon. Lady knows, we are absolutely committed to creating green-collar jobs. Today, we have 460,000 of those jobs across the UK; by 2030, we have stated our commitment to have 2 million such jobs. No one can deny our commitment to creating green jobs. I would further add that we are also committed to making the UK a science superpower, and we will make innovation central to our green recovery. That is absolutely front and centre of what the Government are trying to do.

Commenting on his own report back in 2017, Charles Hendry said,

“the evidence is clear that tidal lagoons can play a cost effective role in the UK’s energy mix”.

This Government still have not managed to back the oven-ready pathfinder tidal energy project in Swansea bay. When will they recognise the opportunities, the new green jobs and the inward investment support that tidal power can bring to Swansea, Wales and the rest of the UK?

We are absolutely committed, as the hon. Lady knows, to tidal power and all forms of marine power. There was a specific issue with the Swansea bay tidal lagoon project, which was that it was felt not to be economical. That was a specific, project-based, single incidence where we did not feel that it was value for taxpayers’ money.

All we have right now, as far as energy efficiency for homes is concerned, is an announcement of a one-year scheme to provide vouchers for energy efficiency improvements in mostly lower priority properties, with no detail yet as to how that will work. The Minister simply did not answer the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) about businesses in the field who are telling us that jobs are being lost now, because people are cancelling work in anticipation of those details, if and when they come out.

What we need for green recovery is a long-term programme that develops jobs and skills and really contributes towards low carbon energy efficiency improvements across all homes in England and Wales. When does the Minister intend to provide details of how the short-term plan will work and what is he doing to establish a proper long-term home energy efficiency programme on the back of that plan?

Obviously, the hon. Gentleman and I will have slightly different views of what the Government are doing. I was surprised to hear him dismiss the £3 billion commitment. I remind him that green homes grants will deliver improvements to more than 650,000 homes, supporting 140,000 jobs in 2020-21. These are significant strides and a huge amount of money has been committed to that programme.