'Green and red together': Labour steps up critique of a government 'asleep at the wheel' of the green recovery

Ed Miliband is to unveil sweeping plans for an electric vehicle revolution, as opposition accuses government of delivering a badly ‘underpowered’ green industrial strategy

The opposition is set to step up its critique of the government’s green plans today, as Labour unveils a sweeping package of new measures designed to turbocharge the development of the UK’s nascent electric vehicle (EV) sector.

The Party is set to call for an “electric vehicle revolution” across the UK, backed by a raft of proposals to develop three new battery gigafactories by 2025, accelerate the charge point rollout, and offer interest-free loans to help those on low and middle incomes purchase EVs.

And in a speech later today, Shadow Business Secretary Ed Miliband is expected to argue the government is “asleep at the wheel” when it comes to nurturing development of the UK’s burgeoning EV sector, as he sets out Labour’s proposals to support Britain’s car manufacturers, create jobs, and help people across every part of the country to shift to owning a zero emissions car.

In order to build a domestic manufacturing supply chain for EVs to help UK remain competitive internationally, Labour is to call on the government to provide part financing by 2025 to help construct three large-scale gigafactories, in addition to the facility already proposed for Northumberland by BritishVolt.

By harnessing joint venture models for the gigafactories including public equity stakes through local public bodies, Labour estimates the move would require no more than £1.5bn of public investment in total, which could potentially be provided by the new UK Infrastructure Bank.

The opposition is also calling on the government to introduce measures to give manufacturers confidence that demand for EVs will continue to grow, proposing the introduction of interest-free loans to fund up to one million EV purchases over the next two years and a trial scrappage scheme for fossil fuel cars, which would offer motorists £2,000 if they switch from older, polluting cars to EVs.

Meanwhile, the party is also expected to urge the government to use increased levels of public funding to support the rollout of much-needed charging infrastructure for EVs right across the UK, potentially by giving the UK Infrastructure Bank a specific remit to invest in charging products that would otherwise struggle to attract funding.

It follows recent calls from Labour for a £30bn one-off ‘Green Economic Recovery’ economic stimulus package in the wake of the pandemic, which Miliband is set to argue later could be used to help “spark an electric vehicle revolution in every part of the country”. The opposition is expected to contrast its proposals with the government’s controversial decision to cut grants for new EVs and slash funding for the Green Homes Grant retrofit scheme, despite Ministers’ promises that they would deliver a green recovery from the coronavirus crisis.

Miliband will today argue that while the government has set a 2030 phase out date for fossil fuel cars, it has failed to offer sufficient support for manufacturers embarking on a major transformation over the coming decade.

“It’s not fair, it will damage our manufacturers, and it will mean losing out on the chance to be the world-leader in the electric vehicle market,” Miliband will say. “Labour would back our manufacturers and the communities with proud histories in the industry, but the government is asleep at the wheel.”

The announcements form part of a wider speech on delivering a green Covid-19 recovery that Miliband is scheduled to make later at Labour’s headquarters in London, as part of which he is expected to argue that “a green transformation could make us a fairer country”. “What we cannot do is put a green coat of paint on our unequal, insecure economy,” he is expected to say. “Every worker whose job might change, every consumer who may face a change, has got to be at the centre of our concerns. This is the DNA of Labour: Green and fair. Green and red together.”

Miliband has frequently sought to paint the government’s net zero efforts as underpowered, arguing for more ambition, clarity, and investment in support of the decarbonisation of the economy. As such, he also led criticism of the government’s recent decision to disband the Industrial Strategy Council set up under Theresa May’s Prime Ministership in 2017.

And, in its final report yesterday, the Industrial Strategy Council – an independent body of industry experts set up to help shape the UK’s Industrial Strategy – warned the government’s green measures announced to date were still far from enough to drive deep decarbonisation of the economy, echoing concerns frequently voiced by the Climate Change Committee and many green businesses.

It said the Prime Minister’s 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution released late last year marked “a significant step forward” with major investments in wind, hydrogen and CCS announced, but that they were still “not yet a practical roadmap for delivering net zero, with several areas at present lacking the required scale to make progress at the required speed”.

The government has promised to deliver an overarching net zero strategy later this year ahead of the crucial COP26 UN climate summit it is hosting in Glasgow, while it is also under pressure to unleash a host of green policy strategies, including for decarbonising transport and heating.

For its part, however, the government has been seeking to bolster its green strategy and has repeatedly stressed that a wave of ambitious new decarbonisation policies are in the pipeline. It last week launched a major 117-page Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy aimed to tackling hard-to-abate sectors such as steel and cement, and just yesterday committed to invest up to £16bn alongside industry over the next decade to reduce CO2 emissions from North Sea oil and gas, albeit in the face of criticism from green groups.

And in response to Labour’s calls for an EV “revolution”, the government said it was already investing £2.8bn in helping drivers to switch to EVs, as well as working with industry to support the installation of “thousands” of chargepoints, while boosting the development of green road transport technologies through the Automotive Transformation Fund. “Last year, SMMT stats show more than one in 10 cars sold in the UK had a plug, showing that the electric vehicle revolution is already happening up and down the country,” Department for Transport said in a statement.

The government clearly feels there is political mileage in its commitment to a Green Industrial Revolution, just as the Opposition feels there are votes to be won in arguing this promised green transformation is not proceeding nearly fast enough. The next election may be the best part of four years away, but the green political dividing lines are already being drawn.

Read more: businessgreen.com