It's Budget day here in the UK and everybody, well a few of us, are waiting to see what Chancellor Philip Hammond will pull out of his red box. As you would expect, I'll be looking for the green:brown ratio to be high, but I'm not getting too excited as, on past experience, Chancellors of all political ilks tend to see Sustainability as the responsibility of other Government departments rather than a core economic principle.

But here's why I think Spreadsheet Phil should reinvent himself as Treehugger Phil:

  • It's the right thing to do, obviously;
  • Meeting our Paris Agreement commitments would give the country an internationalist, outward looking fillip at a time of Brexit and worrying nationalism;
  • Instead of propping up sunset industries by bunging tax relief at the UK's dwindling Oil & Gas sector (a perennial Tory habit), he could be investing in the industries of the future which will would boost higher-paid jobs and prosperity;
  • The Government's Clean Growth Strategy should really become the semi-mythical Long Term Economic Plan if it is to work;
  • The Government is struggling – no majority, infighting, struggles with Brexit and the whiff of post-Weinstein scandal are draining whatever enthusiasm it had. How about a bold, new and unexpected direction?
  • The Conservative Party's standing with young voters, particularly students, is very poor and climate change is a key concern of that demographic – it's easy to join the dots;
  • Environment Secretary Michael Gove has recently wrong-footed many of his critics (including yours truly) by making some big green announcements – it does work;
  • In my opinion, Sustainability is one of the few things the UK has going for it at the moment (fastest decarbonisers in the G20 etc) yet few people actually know how well we are doing – why not play to the country's strengths?

Hammond has made a very strong right-of-centre case for tackling climate change in the past, so there is a possibility of progress. But he is also notoriously unadventurous, so I suspect there will be just a few goodies tucked in amongst a very banal soup of dry economic tweaks. I'll update this post after the Budget Speech this afternoon with my thoughts.

UPDATE: What Phil did...

The good (from a Sustainability pov):

  • Investment in EV funding and tax break for those charging at work;
  • Increased duty on older/dirtier diesel cars with funds going to tackle air quality
  • Expected review into single-use plastic packaging

This was accompanied by some very strong statements on leaving a decent planet for future generations, but just as I thought he was going to make a big, bold, unexpected announcement, he moved on.

Not so green:

  • A continued freeze on fuel duty: although raising it would hit those on low incomes hardest, so I have some sympathy;
  • A suggestion of another tax break for oil and gas: money literally down the well;
  • No mention of the Clean Growth Strategy: another case of one of the Government's best moves being ignored in set piece speeches – so easy to say "This is what we are doing!"

Overall conclusion: some welcome moves, but the big opportunities have been missed.

 

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