As the government tries again to drag us back into the bad old days of nuclear power, this isn’t the only nail in the coffin of Labour’s environmental credentials.
There have been several recently, with almost every department lining up to demonstrate its incompetence at organising and running effective green policies. The ongoing debacle of the DTI’s chronically under-funded, currently suspended, and what seems like deliberately badly planned, Low Carbon Buildings Programme (which is supposed to help householders generate their own green electricity) is now a classic example of this tendency.
On Tuesday, Communities and Local Government Secretary Ruth Kelly revealed another backroom farce surrounding the introduction of Home Information Packs. These have been delayed now from June until August – and will only then apply to houses with four or more bedrooms.
The scheme has been managed in the worst way possible. Revealing the waste of a golden opportunity to create a new, skilled, green workforce, Kelly confessed that less than a quarter of the necessary inspectors had been trained to complete energy surveys for the packs. Those that have qualified were gearing up to start work in a few days time but now face unemployment until August, and even then an uncertain workload as no new timetable has been set for expanding the scope of HIPs.
There is no excuse for this kind of mismanagement. The HIP isn’t something the government thought up last year and decided to rush through. The energy component of the packs is an essential part of compliance with the EU’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, and they have had plenty of notice of this. With no firm plans for compliance now in existence, it looks like this will be another environmental Directive to add to the list of those the UK has failed to implement properly, including those on waste and air quality, among others.
When Labour came into power ten years ago, they promised to ‘make every department a green department’. Instead we have seen green policies jettisoned, left on the shelf or just plain undermined by almost every minister who gets the chance. Part of the reason that so-called Environment Secretary David Miliband is so ineffective must be that he and his ministry have little influence on – or even knowledge of – the chaos being wreaked by other departments in areas that should be within his remit.
As we watch our carbon emissions rising every year, the DTI demolishing our hopes for a green energy future, and the CLG department ditching policies to reduce the footprint of our homes, Defra seems largely confined to funding ‘communications initiatives’ around climate change and encouraging councils to spy on our wheelie bins. I suspect that only when we get an Environment department with real teeth – or better still, real Greens in government – will we see any improvement.