One of the changes made in the parliamentary merry go round following Brexit, was the merger of DECC and BIS to form BEIS (the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy). Any change, especially in politics, gives rise to a range of responses. These varied from people who thought it was “just plain stupid”, “deeply worrying” and “downgraded action to tackle climate change” to those that felt “it makes sense for energy and industrial policy to be in one place” and sensed a “massive opportunity for government to deliver, particularly on industrial efficiency”.
Shortly after the merger, the Cabinet office felt compelled to issue an explanatory note. The aim appears to be to ‘enable a whole economy approach to delivering our climate change ambitions, effectively balancing the priorities of growth and carbon reduction’. Additionally, ‘bringing together energy policy with industrial strategy will be beneficial to shaping a competitive business environment for energy intensive industries’.
So who are the new team? At the helm is Rt Hon Greg Clark (Sec of State). Greg Clark has significant experience having in the past been Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and Minister of State at BIS on two occasions. Greg is aided by Nick Hurd (Minister of State for Climate Change and Industry). Nick Hurd, son of Lord Douglas Hurd, was previously at the Department for International Development and has served on the Environmental Audit Select Committee. He took the lead on climate change policy for the conservative party quality of life policy group, introduced the Sustainable Communities Bill and was awarded the Green Ribbon Parliamentarian of the year for 2016. With responsibility for Energy and Intellectual Property, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, comes directly from BIS and has spent a large part of her working life at Tesco, including as executive director on the main Board.
The team face significant challenges in their new department. Top of the pile is Hinkley Point C. Immediately following the investment go ahead by the EDF Energy board, the project was unexpectedly delayed with the following announcement from Greg Clark; “The government will now consider carefully all the component parts of this project and make its decision in the early autumn.”
The decision is complex and multifaceted and will no doubt be considered in the context of the wider triple energy dilemma of energy security, climate change and affordable energy. The 10 year build programme for nuclear cannot in the medium term solve the energy shortages that some commentators are predicting from 2018 onwards. The work of DECC over the last 2 years, led by Amber Rudd, has reversed much of the localised impetus to solve these interlocking issues and it is now down to BEIS to determine a course of action. A legacy issue that BEIS has already received criticism over is the effective withdrawal of support for CHP through the RHI without sufficient consultation.
Climate change will no doubt come into sharper focus following this week’s announcement by Defra which revealed that the UK’s carbon footprint grew by 3% between 2012 and 2013. This is on top of a 2% rise in the prior year. It remains to be seen if the new BEIS will be able to effectively combine reducing emissions with supporting the interests of UK business in a Britain poised to enter a new world apart from the EU.
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