First-year allowances and first-year tax credits

Finance (No. 3) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 4th December 2018.

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Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury) 9:25 am, 4th December 2018

I beg to move amendment 73, in clause 32, page 19, line 23, at end insert—

“(6) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the likely effect of extending the first-year allowances on energy-saving plant or machinery or environmentally beneficial plant or machinery to 2030 and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.”

This amendment would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the effects of extending first-year allowances to 2030.

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 74, in clause 32, page 19, line 23, at end insert—

“(6) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the likely cost of extending the first-year allowances on energy-saving plant or machinery or environmentally beneficial plant or machinery to 2022 and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.”

This amendment would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the cost of extending first-year allowances to 2022.

Amendment 75, in clause 32, page 19, line 23, at end insert—

“(6) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the effect of ending the first-year allowances on energy-saving plant or machinery or environmentally beneficial plant or machinery and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within one year of the passing of this Act.

(7) A review under subsection (b) must consider the effect on—

(a) the energy technology sector, and

(b) the water technology sector.”

This amendment would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact on the energy and water technology sectors of ending first-year allowances.

Amendment 76, in clause 32, page 19, line 23, at end insert—

“(6) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the effect of ending the first-year allowances on energy-saving plant or machinery or environmentally beneficial plant or machinery, on foreign direct investment in the energy technology and water technology sectors and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within one year of the passing of this Act.”

This amendment would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact of ending the first-year allowance on foreign direct investment in the energy and water technology sectors.

Amendment 77, in clause 32, page 19, line 23, at end insert—

“(6) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the effect of the provisions in this section on the United Kingdom’s ability to comply with its third, fourth and fifth carbon budgets and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.”

This amendment would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact of Clause 32 on the UK’s ability to meet its carbon budgets.

Amendment 78, in clause 32, page 19, line 23, at end insert—

“(6) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must lay before the House of Commons a report on any consultation undertaken on the provisions in this section within two months of the passing of this Act.”

This amendment would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to report on any consultation undertaken on the provisions in this clause.

Clause stand part.

Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

It is lovely to see you again in the chair, Ms Dorries, as we reconvene for this Committee’s second week. It is particularly good to see the Minister still here—I am never quite sure at the minute who will turn up on behalf of the Government.

I speak to Opposition amendments 73, 74 and 78 to clause 32, which focuses on first-year allowances and first-year tax credits. This measure would end the first-year allowance for all products on the technology and energy list and on the water technology list. Before I move on to why the Opposition feel strongly that the Government are wrong to end the first-year allowance, it is important to establish the extent of the allowance, its qualifications and the logic behind its introduction.

Enhanced capital allowances legislation was introduced in 2001 to encourage the use of energy-saving plant and machinery, low-emission cars, natural gas and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure, water conservation plant and machinery construction projects and so on. Under the relief, businesses that pay income or corporation tax can claim 100% of the first-year capital allowance on investment in ECA qualifying items. In addition, adoption of ECA qualifying items improve a project’s building research establishment environmental and assessment method—the BREEAM rating—and contribute to an improved energy performance certification rating.

To qualify, the item acquired must qualify as plant and machinery and satisfy the following criteria: it must not be second hand; the expenditure must have occurred after 1 April 2001; and the plant must either be a listed product or meet the energy saving or water conservation criteria specified by the Carbon Trust. Energy-saving technologies are things such as air-to-air energy recovery, automatic monitoring, boilers including biomass, combined heat and power units, compressed air equipment and so on. Water conservation technologies include efficient showers, taps and toilets, energy-efficient washing machines and more.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy describes enhanced capital allowances as different from standard capital allowances. It estimates that enhanced capital allowances are between 5.5 and 12.5 times greater than ordinary capital allowance relief. This accelerated cost saving further shortens the period of time and builds the business case for investment in energy-efficient equipment.

It is clear that this allowance encourages businesses to mitigate their environmental footprint and is designed to help the UK transition to a green and low-carbon economy. It is therefore disappointing that at a time when, as we have already discussed in this Committee, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that climate change is at the point of becoming irreversible, the Government would choose to end such an effective relief.

Despite the positive steps that national Governments are taking all over the world to get citizens to recognise and limit their personal carbon footprint, businesses clearly have a role to play, too. We feel that the best way is to incentivise businesses, making it worth their while to use energy-saving and water-conserving technologies through tax relief. Taking away first-year allowances with little notice would only further alienate business at a time when we all need to do what we can to transition our economy to deal with the realities of climate change.

Although in its policy notes the Treasury suggests that small and medium-sized businesses will be shielded and the vast majority will be able to claim relief under the separate annual investment allowance, it concedes that large businesses will face additional costs and some level of disruption. Similarly, the Chancellor has stated that the revenue saved will be used to fund the industrial energy transformation fund. However, details about the fund remain scant, aside from the fact that it will targeted at smaller businesses and funded through the end of these first-year allowances.

From the Opposition’s perspective, the change appears to be little more than a rebranding exercise designed to take an effective relief—first-year allowances—away and simply redirect that revenue into the Chancellor’s new fund. It is far from the radical industrial strategy that the UK needs to ensure that businesses and citizens are equipped to deal with climate change and the evolving energy market.

In the Budget, the Chancellor announced a consultation on a new business energy efficiency scheme, yet there appears to be little mention of whether businesses were consulted about ending this vital relief. Opposition amendment 78 would therefore require the Chancellor to report on what consultation has taken place.

The Government’s decision to end first-year allowances for energy-saving and water conservation technologies raises a further question about the effectiveness of this relief. Put simply, it is not broken, so the Government need to explain why they are planning to scrap it. That is certainly the sentiment behind Opposition amendments 74 and 73, which would require the Chancellor to undertake a review of the cost of extending the allowance to the end of this Parliament, and to 2030, respectively.

The reality is that the changes made by the Government in clause 32 appear to be revenue-led. They put the short-term priorities of the Treasury ahead of the UK’s long-term obligation to tackle climate change. Rather than empowering businesses to do their part and invest in energy-saving and water conservation technologies, it appears likely to deter them. We cannot see the logic of that. If the Government are sincere in their desire to create a better-targeted and more effective relief, they need to offer the Committee further details about the supposed industrial energy transformation fund to replace first-year allowances. If the Committee is being asked to endorse that change, let us have all the details first.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. After two days in the reassuring embrace of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the Committee has a brief interlude.

Clause 32 will make changes to end, from April 2020, first-year allowances for all products on the energy technology list and the water technology list, including the associated first-year tax credit. The environmental first-year allowances aimed to encourage greater take-up of environmentally friendly technology. Capital expenditure by businesses on plant and machinery normally qualifies for tax relief by way of capital allowances. Environmental first-year allowances allow 100% of the cost of an investment in qualifying plant and machinery to be written off against taxable income in the year of investment, providing a cash-flow benefit. The first-year tax credit provides a tax credit for loss-making businesses that invest in qualifying items.

The first-year allowance was introduced in 2001 for products on the energy technology list, and in 2003 for products on the water technology list. However, the allowances have made the tax system more complex, and there is very limited evidence that they have driven greater uptake of such technologies. A report by the Office of Tax Simplification found significant barriers to accessing the allowances, including the administrative burden of making claims. Government analysis suggests that less than 25% of energy managers would increase investment in energy-saving technology because of the allowances, while fewer than 20% of manufacturers report a positive impact on sales.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy), SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy)

The Minister makes an interesting case, but it is what I would have expected as part of the report required by amendment 75. Will the Government accept the amendment and provide us with the information in report form, rather than having the Minister stand up here and tell us?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary

I will come to the amendment in a moment, but I hope I will be able to reassure the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde that we have already given the matter a great deal of thought and spoken to a number of stakeholders in the sector. Our actions are led by precisely the businesses that benefit from the existing reliefs.

For 99% of businesses, all plant and machinery is already eligible for full relief under the annual investment allowance, so the enhanced capital allowances provide no additional incentive. Smaller businesses such as those to which the hon. Gentleman refers have little if any reason to make use of those reliefs. The Government therefore believe that there are better ways to support energy efficiency.

The changes made by clause 32 will end the first-year allowances and the first-year tax credits from April 2020. In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question about little notice, there is a significant amount of notice, beginning with the Budget this year, and these first-year tax rates not ending until April 2020. That is the point at which the industrial energy transformation fund will be available. Those rates will still be available until then, which will give businesses the time they need to prepare for change. The Government will look to lay secondary legislation in 2019 and update the lists of eligible technology, so that they can still be used and will be updated to include the most efficient technologies in the meantime. There is no sense in which those measures will fall behind with technological change.

To give some extra detail on some of the flaws with the current first-year allowance for energy technology, we found very low levels of awareness, as I have already described. Manufacturers estimate that less than a quarter of their customers are even aware of the scheme, and it provided little additionality. As I have set out, fewer than 25% of energy managers reported that the scheme influenced their investment decisions, and fewer than 20% of manufacturers reported that, if they did use it, it made a positive impact on their sales and businesses.

Many tax advisers reported to us that their clients decided to make claims after they had chosen to invest in efficient technology, so it did not have the impact that we would have hoped. Small companies are much less likely than larger companies to benefit, and 99% of companies would already be able to make such investments under the annual investment allowance. A 2017 survey by the Federation of Small Businesses found that only a quarter of small business owners were even aware of the scheme.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy), SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy)

Is the Minister not making the case for more consultation in advance of any tax changes? Clearly, this tax change did not achieve what the Government thought it would. The consultations and information asked for are even more vital if the Government are making mistakes and not achieving what they had hoped.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary

It is pretty clear from the evidence I have just laid out that the current tax reliefs do not work. We are making the changes required to ensure that smaller businesses, through the increased annual investment allowance, will have the allowance they need to make these investments. We will now work closely with other businesses, through the design of the industrial energy transformation fund, and a full consultation on that will be launched at the beginning of next year. We encourage the hon. Lady, businesses and other members of the Committee to take part in that consultation, as we design the successor fund to these reliefs.

The Government remain committed to increasing environmental efficiency, and the savings from ending first-year allowances and tax credits will be used to fund the industrial energy transformation fund. That fund will help businesses with high energy use to cut their energy bills and reduce their carbon emissions, by supporting investment in energy efficiency and other innovative decarbonisation technologies that may become available in the years ahead. Those could include, for example, investment in carbon capture and storage, or fuel-switching technologies. However, decisions on the scheme design, including eligibility and the technologies that will be supported, will be subject to the consultation with industry that I have just described. Establishing the scheme will fulfil our manifesto commitment to establish an energy efficiency scheme for industry, and that has been widely welcomed, including by groups such as EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation; UK Steel and the Energy Intensive Users Group. Since the Budget, I have spoken to a number of heavy users of energy, including car manufacturers, who all welcome this measure.

Photo of Clive Lewis Clive Lewis Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Is the Minister aware that some businesses are concerned that the Government are ending one scheme without having another in place? That causes uncertainty for business at a time when they need more certainty than they have had for a long time.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary

I hear that concern, and that was the reason we chose not to end the scheme immediately. The scheme will end in April 2020. Until then it will continue as it does today, and be regularly updated with new technologies. If a company that makes use of it knows of a new technology that it wants to be part of the scheme, it will be possible for that to be added. The scheme will continue exactly as is until April 2020, by which time the new one will be in place. As a result of this year’s Budget, the annual investment allowance will also go up to £1 million, so additional allowances will be available to those businesses.

Amendments 73 and 74 would require the Government to publish a review of the cost of extending first-year allowances to 2030 and 2022. As set out in the policy costings document that we published alongside the Budget, ending the allowances will save £160 million by 2021-22. As we announced in the Budget, savings from ending the allowances will be invested in an industrial energy transformation fund of up to £315 million. Our primary motivation is finding a better way to help businesses be more energy-efficient—not saving money for the Exchequer, as was suggested—and we believe that our approach makes more efficient use of public funds. We anticipate that the average annual cost of extending first-year allowances would remain at around the same level until 2030. The figures are already known and in the public domain, so I urge the Committee to reject amendments 73 and 74 because the information that they request is already available.

Amendments 75 and 76 would require the Government to publish a review of the impact of clause 32 on the energy and water technology sectors. I hope that I have already provided the Committee with an answer to those points, removing the necessity of such reports. As I have set out, there is little evidence that the first-year allowances lead to a greater uptake of environmental technology, so the Government do not believe that such reports would provide any significant additional information. Furthermore, the Government support business investment in other, more efficient and dynamic ways, through the increase in the annual investment allowance and the creation of the industrial energy transformation fund.

Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

I am listening carefully to the Minister, but if the increase in the annual investment allowance replaces the first-year allowances or mitigates their loss, it seems that there is no fiscal incentive to invest in energy-efficient or climate change-relevant technology. The Opposition believe that we should try to operate the policy as a fiscal instrument to direct investment into the technologies that we need, but I do not see that described in the Minister’s answer.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary

I have described it; that is the rationale for replacing the first-year allowance with the energy transformation fund. Had we chosen simply to remove the allowances and replace them solely with the increase in the annual investment allowance, the hon. Gentleman would be correct: 99% of businesses could proceed broadly as they do today, but they would not have a specific incentive to choose environmental equipment, plant and machinery or energy efficiency measures. However, by coupling the increase in the annual investment allowance with the transformation fund, we hope to shift the dial in favour of technology that helps the environment.

Amendment 77 would require the Government to review the impact of clause 32 on the UK’s ability to meet its carbon budgets. I assure the Committee that there are already robust requirements to report on progress towards the UK’s emissions reduction targets. When the measures in the Budget and the Bill become law, they will become part of that regime.

The Climate Change Act 2008 provides a world-leading governance framework that ensures that progress towards carbon targets is robustly monitored and reported to Parliament. First, the Government are required to prepare and lay before Parliament an annual statement of emissions that sets out the total greenhouse gases emitted to and removed from the atmosphere across the UK, and the steps taken to calculate the net UK carbon account. Secondly, the independent Committee on Climate Change is required to prepare and lay before Parliament an annual report, to which the Government are required to respond, on the Government’s progress towards meeting the UK’s carbon budgets. I would expect the committee to take the changes made by clause 32 into account in their deliberations. Thirdly, the Government are required to prepare and lay before Parliament a statement that sets out performance against each carbon budget period and the 2050 target.

Photo of Clive Lewis Clive Lewis Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I thank the Minister for his patience. As I understand it, having requested an analysis from the Minister responsible for carbon budgets on whether the Government were going to take into account the recent evidence from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the 1.5° warming, the fourth and fifth carbon budgets do not currently do that. I have been told that there will be no assessment of the 1.5° warming until after 2030 when the fifth carbon budget concludes. Was the Minister aware of that and will he comment on the fact that that could have a severe impact on our ability to be able to achieve the targets?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary 9:45 am, 4th December 2018

The IPCC will report in the usual way. It will not necessarily update its methodology, but it will lay before Parliament its usual statement and the Government will have to respond, as they have in every case. The Committee on Climate Change will hold the Government to account for the changes that we make, such as the ones in the Bill. That does not entirely answer the hon. Gentleman’s question on future targets. The mechanisms in place are strong and will ensure monitoring and reporting to Parliament of greenhouse gas emissions and of the Government’s responses. I therefore urge Members to reject amendment 77.

Amendment 78 would require the Government to report on any consultation undertaken on the provisions in clause 32. The Government consult stakeholders on an ongoing basis to inform all their policies. The provisions in clause 32 are no different. This includes, for example, surveys of relevant manufacturers and a call for evidence on helping businesses to improve the way they use energy, which was conducted by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. It would therefore not make sense to report further on the consultation that the Government have already undertaken on first- year allowances. Her Majesty’s Treasury Ministers meet manufacturers regularly, as I have said. I have met automotive manufacturers since the Budget and they welcome the changes.

The legislation was not released in draft because this is a simple abolition and does not constitute a measure that we would consult on normally. The Government stated in the new budget timetable and the tax-making process, which was published last year, that they will generally not consult on straightforward rates, allowances and threshold changes because they do not benefit from that process. I therefore urge Members to reject amendment 78.

The removal of the first-year allowances and associated first-year tax credits will allow the Government more effectively to support businesses to cut their energy bills and reduce carbon emissions. It will enable us to redirect the funds to the industrial energy transformation fund, which has been widely welcomed. I hope Members who are interested will take part in the consultation next year so that we can ensure it meets the requirements of industry and those who care about the environment. I therefore commend this clause to the Committee.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 9, Noes 10.

Division number 18 Finance (No. 3) Bill — First-year allowances and first-year tax credits

Aye: 9 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: 75, in clause 32, page 19, line 23, at end insert—

“(6) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the effect of ending the first-year allowances on energy-saving plant or machinery or environmentally beneficial plant or machinery and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within one year of the passing of this Act.

(7) A review under subsection (b) must consider the effect on—

(a) the energy technology sector, and

(b) the water technology sector.”—

This amendment would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact on the energy and water technology sectors of ending first-year allowances.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 9, Noes 10.

Division number 19 Finance (No. 3) Bill — First-year allowances and first-year tax credits

Aye: 9 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 32 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 33