Five questions answered on new fracking tax incentive for councils

Why is the government offering an incentive for fracking?

The government today announced that local councils will receive a higher percentage of fracking business rates revenues. We answer five questions on this new fracking incentive. 

What exactly is the government offering councils that support fracking?

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has said that English local authority councils will receive 100 per cent of the business rates received from fracking companies, instead of the usual 50 per cent. Normally the other 50 per cent would go to central government.

Why is the government offering this incentive for fracking?

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing - its official name - is the process of drilling deep underground using high pressure and a mix of chemicals, water and sand to crack rocks and release the gas inside.

There has been much opposition against fracking in the UK, with protests regularly making the headlines. Those against the technique believe fracking could cause small earth tremors or contaminate water.

This latest tax incentive is designed to encourage councils to approve fracking in spite of local objections.

How much could local authorities reap from this new fracking tax law?

Government officials say the new business rate commitment would mean councils would keep up to £1.7m extra a year from each fracking site.

This is on top of a pledge by industry to give communities £100,000 for test drilling and a further one per cent of the revenues if shale is discovered.

This one per cent levy could provide "£10m per wellhead" according to Energy Minister Michael Fallon.

What else has the government said?

Cameron said:

A key part of our long-term economic plan to secure Britain's future is to back businesses with better infrastructure. That's why we're going all-out for shale. It will mean more jobs and opportunities for people, and economic security for our country.

Fallon told Radio 4's Today programme:

We want local councils and local people to benefit from this exploration. We expect 20 to 40 wells to be drilled in exploration over the next couple of years and I think it's very important that local communities see some of the benefit.

What have others said?

Jane Thomas, Friends of the Earth Senior Campaigner, said in a statement:

"This latest Government move highlights the depth of local opposition to fracking and the desperate lengths ministers are prepared to go to overcome it.

“People are right to be concerned about the impact of shale gas extraction on their communities - especially as experts say it won’t lead to cheaper fuel bills.

"This move raises potentially serious concerns about conflicts of interest, if councils that benefit from this money are also the ones who decide on planning applications from fracking firms in the first place.”

Labour shadow energy minister Tom Greatrex, speaking to the BBC, said: "Only by fully addressing legitimate environmental and safety concerns about fracking with robust regulation and comprehensive monitoring will people have confidence that the exploration and possible extraction of shale gas is a safe and reliable source that can contribute to the UK's energy mix.”

The Local Government Association, which represents councils in England, told the BBC: "One percent of gross revenues distributed locally is not good enough; returns should be more in line with payments across the rest of the world and be set at 10 per cent.

"The community benefits of fracking should be enshrined in law, so companies cannot withdraw them to the detriment of local people."

Fracking continues to be a contentious practice in the UK. Photograph: Getty Images.

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser