Both Umunna and Cameron discussed "consensus". Photos: Getty
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Chuka Umunna and David Cameron's consensus on what business rifts mean for Labour

Both the shadow business secretary and Prime Minister suggest how harmful business rifts could be for Ed Miliband.

Watching the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) conference today, the link between David Cameron and Chuka Umunna's speeches to business leaders was striking. Both made points about political consensus on business policy, and it appears they have both concluded what party political business rifts mean: bad news for Labour.

The Prime Minister made a crafty political point when he compared Ed Miliband's attitude to enterprise with those of his predecessors:

I want to say something very frank. I’ve sat in parliament from 2001 to 2015. For the first nine years of that, I had opposite me on those green benches Tony Blair and Gordon Brown . . . and whatever else we disagreed on, we agreed that business is the generator of growth. That long-held consensus in British politics is now over.

His aim was clear: capitalise on the New Labour figures, like Peter Mandelson, who are making unwelcome interventions concerning Miliband's relationship with business, and suggest to the country that there is now only one party on the side of business.

Chuka Umunna also referred to "consensus":

Maybe it's controversial to say this in Westminster – there is a lot more consensus around business policy than [you're] led to believe.

The emphasis of the shadow business secretary's comment, made during a Q+A following his speech, was that the gulf between Labour and Tory approaches to British business is nowhere near as great as suggested by the press and Labour's detractors.

Both seem to subscribe to a consensus on one thing: Labour being perceived as too distant from the Tories, or the previous government, on business could harm the party electorally.

Update 17.14

A source close to Umunna tells me: "The context of Chuka's remarks on consensus was Cameron's overly party political tone. By turning up and making such a party political speech today, and by using Tory donors to attack Labour, he is undermining what business leaders want – political parties working together where they agree, and not simply abolishing what previous governments have done."

Indeed, Umunna mentioned in his speech his "motto" for if he becomes Business Secretary in the next governement: "Continuity wherever possible; change only where necessary." This approach will appeal to a business community exasperated by party politics and the electoral cycle hindering its stability.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.