What does the General Election have to offer Green Entrepreneurs?

As voters head to the polls today to cast their votes, with the eventual outcome remaining very much uncertain, Sustainable Bridges asked its members what the election and the proposed party policies might offer for green entrepreneurs. Interestingly discussion centred on the possibility of an EU referendum.

To kick start conversation, AutoTrip’s Alexander Nicholson offered members a suggestion to bear in mind when casting their vote;

Imagine each party as a start-up and yourself an investor with £10k to invest via a crowdfunding platform. When making your investment decision, which aspects should you factor into your analysis? Surely the experience and reputation of the team would be critical. Consider their track record to date, their know how and their academic rigour when making that decision.

With this in mind, Sustainable Bridges asked its members which issues would be dominating their decision, with one topic in particular generating much debate — Conservative proposals for an EU referendum. With much of the current legislation on climate change stemming from Brussels, how would leaving the EU affect those working in the UK’s green sector? If, as the consensus at Sustainable Bridges seemed to be, that in the event of a referendum a clear vote in favour of remaining in the EU would happen, what would be the value in such a referendum for all the instability and uncertainty it might generate? Alternatively, if as happened with the referendum on Scottish Independence, whereby what was once deemed a forgone conclusion very nearly went the other way, what if the UK did indeed end up leaving Europe?

As highlighted in the discussion, the short termism of party politics in the UK has dogged the long-term strategy necessary for transformation to a low-carbon society of much-needed policy consistency. Here the longer-term vision afforded by the EU has been crucial in pushing forward green innovation and its deployment, with legislation such as the 2012 Energy Efficiency Directive among others driving an impetus domestic politicians have failed to replicate. Particularly, in the aftermath of a coalition government, with the chances of another coalition likely, Europe offers a valuable long term framework for green policies where domestic parties are too busy trying to point-score off one and other. Comments made by Ed Davey on divisions on energy and climate change matters amongst coalition partners are by no means a surprise. As such, is an EU referendum still a risk worth taking?

Perhaps, as advocated, a referendum may offer an opportunity for the general public to learn more about EU membership and what benefits it offers all of us. Perhaps it may offer the UK an opportunity to re-negotiate the terms of its membership within the EU. But surely it remains a risk. And what message does it send out to the rest of Europe? As articulated in the discussion, representation of the EU in the British media is both largely negative and very different to how the institution is represented on the continent. Do we trust the British media with the role of objectively portraying the EU in the event of a referendum? Given certain components of the media’s performance in the run up to last September’s referendum and the criticism supposedly neutral bodies such as the BBC received, this is perhaps debatable.

Elsewhere, discussion touched on some of the more elaborate policies on the table, such as UKIP’s proposal to abolish the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), which as a standalone policy wasn’t met with complete hostility at Sustainable Bridges. Indeed, fuelled by other proposals such as Labour’s proposed energy prize freeze until 2017, would reduced political interference in the energy sector be a blessing? Is DECC as an institution really doing as much as it can for the radical innovations attempting to de-carbonise Britain, or are they too closely vested in the status quo? For all the measures that might have to be taken to enable a price freeze, no doubt requiring cuts elsewhere, would the proposed freeze, if actually instigated, not just lead to more problems? Would the final consumer really benefit?

Even in the pertinent field of energy efficiency, which three of the resident ventures directly address, was the risk of a Tory government and their widely acknowledged hostility to policies such as the Energy Company Obligation, actually be the lesser risk? if Labour might have to cut such initiatives altogether to fund their price freeze. Reflecting a full circle, was the potential for a repeated Tory-Liberal coalition actually the preferred outcome in this sphere? Or has, as for at least one member, the inability of the Liberals to stand up to their coalition partners been too bad a failure to forgive at the polling station.

With other issues such as the ability to safeguard economic recovery, and best support SMEs and access to finance for SMEs, Sustainable Bridges’ members certainly had plenty to discuss, some issues such as the need for reforming the entire system transcending the remit of today’s election. Other issues such as the need for politicians to consider the UK’s position on the global stage have perhaps not received as much analysis in the mainstream media as was deemed adequate by Bridge members.

Whatever today’s outcome, Sustainable Bridges and its members seek a government that recognises the merits of green entrepreneurship and will champion the key role it has for stimulating innovation, providing sustainable green sector jobs and delivering the environmental benefits necessary to adequately address climate change.


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