An Energy Crisis Made in Downing Street

One of the frustrations of being a local councillor is the way that national decisions, or the lack of them, impacts on local people’s lives.

People are rightly a bit edgy about the future right now. We’ve had problems at the petrol stations, now we have problems with gas prices, and it’s predicted that there’ll be a range of product shortages this Christmas. These issues are all examples of the ‘macro economy’ and the ‘micro economy’ colliding. They show how national and international instability impacts on our day-to-day lives. Such problems quickly get ‘political’ because politics is all about the choices being made to order and organise the world around us in certain ways. Political tribes are formed around different visions of what’s important and how to go about making the necessary changes.

Traditionally my political party, the Labour party, have believed that it’s important for governments (national and local) to intervene in lots of different of areas of life to look after people’s general wellbeing and security. By contrast, the Conservatives prefer a more hands off approach – what they call “small government”. They’d rather leave “the market” to find its own way of solving things. The many problems of taking this latter approach are now becoming painfully clear.

Of course, most of the time the market can be relied on to deliver the things we need, I have no issue with that. But there are forces and factors that undermine the market’s reliability. Politicians therefore need to be alert to problems on the road ahead. For example, the last Labour goverment, under Gordon Brown, recognised the growing risks around over-dependence on fossil fuel. They launched a big programme of installing solar panels incentivised by something called a “feed-in tariff” – a way of selling electricity generated back into the National Grid. The scheme quickly took off. Many of the solar panels that you’ll see on roofs around North Tyneside date back to this period. However, when Conservative leader David Cameron became Prime Minister in 2010 he quickly scaled back the scheme, before axing it entirely. It’s just one example of how over the last decade the Tories have consistently failed on national energy policy.

Their preference to dither around waiting to see how the market does or doesn’t respond to difficulties emerging in one sector after another has real consequences for North Shields residents. The ward I serve, Preston, has parts referred to by some locals as the ‘posh end’ of the town. Even so, it still has a considerable amount of poverty, as shown in the responses to the annual survey undertaken by the council, shown below:

North Tyneside Council Annual Residents Survey, Preston Ward

In summary then, I’m really concerned about the impact of the various national crises on local residents. Rising energy bills, for homes, and for businesses, will bring real hardship. I desperately want the government to get more involved and to act more quickly…

  • They need to scale up offshore wind farms more quickly.
  • They need to restore financial backing to solar power generation projects.
  • They need to properly support the insulation of draughty homes to reduce people’s bills through the chilly northern winters.

Mr. Johnson – get on with it, or get out of the way!

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