TRUDY MORRIS: Clash of ideologies over stable energy policy
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Chamber Comment by Trudy Morris
This month’s publication by the UK government of the British Energy Security Strategy has, at long last, brought some solidity and certainty as to the longer-term plans and ambitions for the nation’s energy policy.
The strategy’s focus in particular in bringing online much-needed additional baseload generation, in the form of up to eight new nuclear reactors, shows a welcome degree of realism about the requirement for stable, dependable delivery of clean energy in the decades to come.
I am absolutely supportive of, and recognise the need for, accelerated rollout of renewable energy technologies, and it is clear that the north Highlands as a region is well-placed to benefit from this. But what is equally clear is that renewable energy by itself is not sufficient to meet our existing energy needs, let alone plan for future growth.
While broadly positive, what the UK government’s energy strategy has, unfortunately, highlighted is the continued lack of cohesion and cooperation between Westminster and Holyrood on this vital issue.
This is perhaps most immediately obvious when it comes to nuclear energy, but on the matter of oil and gas we also see a clear and concerning disconnect between our two governments.
Again, the need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels – whether foreign or domestic – is abundantly clear, and the Chamber is actively engaged with partners on projects to examine alternatives such as hydrogen. Until these vital alternatives are developed to market readiness, however, there will remain a need to use oil and gas in many areas of our lives, and the Scottish Government’s reluctance to provide a supportive environment for new North Sea extraction is proving economically dangerous.
Especially now, the ideological commitment to addressing climate change must be equally balanced against the very practical requirement to take urgent action to address the devastating economic impact of energy price rises.
This is the single most urgent and concerning issue on the Chamber’s radar right now, and we have heard from many of our members over the past weeks about the staggering and unsustainable impact that these price rises have had, with energy bills nearly doubling in many cases. On top of this, businesses are facing a range of additional costs, with VAT returning to 20 per cent for the hospitality and tourism sector and the rise in National Insurance increasing costs across the board.
These increases come at the worst possible time for a business community still reeling from the impacts of Covid-19. Indeed, recent events post a serious threat to the vital post-Covid economic recovery and regeneration of the region.
The UK government has, at least, set out a clear position as to its long-term strategy, even if it has yet to address the immediate need to support business through this crisis.
What businesses now need is for our government in Holyrood to listen to what we have to say, set aside partisan and ideological differences, and commit to working in partnership with Westminster to deliver meaningful support for the business community, such as an energy price cap for SMEs.
The Chamber will, as ever, be making every effort to represent the concerns of our members and ensure that governments locally, regionally and nationally consider the voice of business as an important factor in their decision-making.
- Trudy Morris is chief executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce.