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Miliband slams coalition over mixed signals on green economy

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Source: Accuvio

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The Labour leadership has attacked the coalition for failing to provide adequate support and stability to green businesses, arguing that the green growth opportunity is being squandered due to government in-fighting.

In a wide-ranging speech to the Policy Network conference in London today, Ed Miliband slammed Chancellor George Osborne for failing to deliver a coherent industrial policy to promote fast-expanding low carbon businesses.

Arguing that the UK should embrace a more interventionist industrial policy similar to those adopted by many other countries, Miliband insisted 'part of that industrial policy agenda is about recognising the importance of the green economy for the future – not posing the environment and the economy as alternatives as the current Chancellor does'.

The speech built on Miliband's 'producers v predators' speech to the Labour Party Conference last year, which he acknowledged had been 'controversial', but insisted had been inspired by the move towards 'more responsible capitalism [that] is actually being led by many business people'.

He said Labour was embarking on a long-term push to promote a more sustainable and resilient form of capitalism, revealing the party's review on how short-termism is impacting UK firms will address 'all of the issues, from quarterly reporting to takeovers'.

He also stepped up his recent attacks on the government for failing to offer a coherent long-term vision for the economic recovery, accusing it of tinkering with policies such as today's announcement to relax planning rules for conservatories, rather than delivering a clear industrial policy.

'A one-year holiday from the current rules on planning for a conservatory extension of up to eight metres into a garden does not represent an economic plan,' he said.

In a question and answer session following the speech, Miliband stressed plans to stimulate the economy through infrastructure projects should focus on green development. 'We've got to go down the low-carbon route, and you have to prioritise the low-carbon route,' he said.

He was joined by Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, who attacked Osborne for failing to support green growth and damaging low-carbon businesses by constantly changing policies, citing the example of the government's mishandling of cuts to solar incentives last year.

The speeches will inevitably attract criticism over the lack of detail on how Labour proposes to stimulate green growth, but the comments represent the first significant attack from the Labour leadership on the government's environmental record, and suggest Miliband could use the controversial reshuffle and its promotion of ministers who are regarded as hostile to the environment as an opportunity to appeal to green-minded voters and businesses.

The move paves the way for a conference season when all three of the main parties are expected to try and highlight their differences on environmental and energy policy.

Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary Caroline Flint said there was now a clear dividing line between Labour and the Conservatives on environmental issues.

'Today's speech shows that Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and the entire Labour Shadow Cabinet are committed to an active industrial strategy for green growth,' she said, adding the party's ongoing green policy review would further underline its support for low-carbon industries.

The speech was broadly welcomed by green groups. Matthew Spencer of the Green Alliance think tank predicted the move would crank up pressure on David Cameron to deliver some explicit green growth measures. 'We've now had clear statements of support for green growth from Miliband and Clegg,' he told BusinessGreen. 'Cameron now needs to reassure business and voters that his party are not drifting away from this consensus.'

Similarly, Greenpeace's John Sauven urged the Chancellor to 'stop holding back Britain's low-carbon businesses'.

'Everybody from the CBI to the Labour leadership to green groups are now urging him to back these growing industries,' he said. 'This sector provided around a third of all growth in the economy over the past year, and Ed Miliband is right to highlight how it should be central to our economic recovery.'

The speech came on the same day as Tory MP Laura Sandys, writing for BusinessGreen, also reiterated that modernisers within the Conservative Party remain committed to delivering on a green growth agenda.

'We need to re-engineer our economic model,' she wrote. 'With a 53 per cent increase in energy consumption forecast by 2035, those who are commercially savvy will recognise that in a resource-poor future, we cannot be captured by a profligate economic model from the past.

'Over the last 30 years, businesses have had to manage energy costs that have risen by 120 per cent above inflation. Any country that is serious about future economic competitiveness will ensure that they limit their reliance on fluctuating, politicised energy imports.'

Meanwhile, green groups today continued their criticism of the reshuffle and stepped up calls for the government to do more to promote green growth.

'The Prime Minister talked about the need to ‘kick-start' the economy today, but the green economy is already motoring,' said David Norman, director of campaigns at WWF-UK. 'Already nearly a million people are employed in providing low carbon and environmental goods and services in a sector that has grown at four to five per cent since 2008 and is expected to continue to grow at around five per cent a year.

'What the environmental sector needs is enthusiastic support from senior ministers. The government should focus on easy wins such as existing schemes like the Green Deal and the Green Investment Bank, and supporting the growing renewable energy sector.'

His comments were echoed by Paul King, chief executive of the Green Building Council, who warned the new relaxation of planning rules was unlikely to improve either the economy or sustainable development efforts.

'The government is right to put the construction sector at the heart of economic recovery but reckless hacking back of the planning system just smacks of panic – coming months after the biggest shake-up to the system in a generation,' he said. 'Access to finance is a far bigger issue. Planning is not just useless 'red tape'; it helps create and protect places which people value. Today's proposals to allow a free-for-all on home extensions are utterly misguided.

'If the government really wants to boost construction, there are 26 million homes in the UK, the vast majority of which leak heat like a sieve. A real stimulus, to boost jobs and cut people's energy bills would be to get an army of builders out there insulating them properly this winter.'

However, Prime Minister David Cameron insisted the changes – which include proposals to build up to 70,000 new homes, provide £50bn of government guarantees for infrastructure and housing projects, and clampdown on planning authorities that are making decisions too slowly – would help drive economic growth.

'The measures announced today show this government is serious about rolling its sleeves up and doing it all it can to kick-start the economy,' he said.

'Some of the proposals are controversial; others have been a long time in coming. But along with our Housing Strategy, they provide a comprehensive plan to unleash one of the biggest homebuilding programmes this country has seen in a generation.'

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