We are looking at a really deep recession, with unemployment almost certain to rise vertiginously over the coming months, with a particular impact on the younger workforce. I therefore wholeheartedly welcome the Chancellor’s statement to protect, support and create jobs. That is evidence, once again, that this Conservative Government are not just listening to the people but acting swiftly and dynamically to tackle the economic and social fallout from covid-19.
I also welcome the developing demonstration that this Government are really serious about reshaping the economy to achieve carbon net zero by 2050. We are on a journey of technological development to zero-emission energy and zero-emission land transport, and now is the time to tackle our buildings, which are responsible for 18% of all our emissions. Even with our increased appetite to “build, build, build”, 80% of all buildings likely to be standing in 2050 have already been built. The Chancellor’s £3 billion insulation schemes are a fantastic start, and I look forward to the publishing of the buildings and heat strategy later this year to see how this policy can be further developed.
However, as the Chancellor made clear, our response to the current crisis cannot all be about spending. In the medium term, we need to put our public finances back on a sustainable footing. Baldly, it is likely that ways in which to raise revenue will not be far from the Chancellor’s mind. Anticipating that, we should consider a carbon tax, together with a scheme for broader adjustment payments. Today, the full cost to the economy of carbon emissions is not included in the price of purchase, creating a false exchange. Put simply, when we buy something, we do not know what carbon cost we are responsible for. A carbon tax, which adds in that missing part of a transaction, would remedy that.
Such a tax would make the decision to take advantage of today’s grants for insulation even more attractive, and, rather than costing the taxpayer, could raise significant sums for the Treasury. Its enormous benefits can be summarised as follows: creating an efficient exchange where all the costs of production are reflected in a decision to purchase; creating stronger and more profitable business cases for the new green tech businesses that we want our economy to pivot towards, without having to attempt that by expensive and inefficient Government projects and grants; providing a cash incentive to all of us to reduce our carbon emitting purchases in favour of lower carbon alternatives, thereby assisting the achievement of our legal obligation to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050; and, in addition to all those public goods, generating a very significant income source for the Treasury at a time when everyone else is calling for increased spending. If anything will get the attention of the Minister, I hope that last point will.