November 18: Energy supplies drive economy

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THE PHRASE “long-term economic plan” has become part of the political lexicon.

Not only is it used at Prime Minister’s Questions to contrast Tory prudence with Labour profligacy when it comes to the public finances, but the Government says increased spending on the NHS, or national security in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, is only possible owing to its fiscal responsibility.

Yet, if the economy is to expand and provide the necessary revenue to fund new nurses or personnel for the security services, it requires sufficient supplies of electricity and gas to power the wheels of industry. Unfortunately no such guarantee can be given owing to successive governments failing to recognise the importance of putting a “long-term energy plan” in place.

This crisis is revealed in a hard-hitting Centre for Policy Studies report ahead of a keynote policy speech by Energy Secretary Amber Rudd. It reveals that the 131 per cent increase in household electricity bills in the past decade has not been re-invested in new infrastructure. Quite the opposite – generating capacity has actually fallen by 20 per cent with businesses already under pressure to reduce output at times of peak usage.

This simply is not acceptable for a 21st century global economy – rising electricity costs and green taxes are crippling the steel industry and it is striking that a hands-on politician like George Osborne has 
not turned his attention to this.

Having opted to enshrine his public spending commitments into law, perhaps the Chancellor should use his Autumn Statement to promise legislation compelling this Government, and its successors, to meet annual targets over security of energy supply, plurality and affordability. With the influential World Energy Council downgrading the UK’s energy sustainability rating, the need for a “long-term energy plan” has never been more urgent.

The way forward. What next for Yorkshire devolution?

NOW the Government has approved devolution deals for Liverpool and the West Midlands, it leaves West, North and Yorkshire as the only areas with uncertainty hanging over their future governance arrangements.

This can be interpreted in one of two ways.

Either it is a sorry reflection on the ability of this region’s leaders to work together – David Cameron’s unguarded comments in Leeds hinted at this – or those concerned are still striving to secure the best deal possible.

If it is the latter, this can only be beneficial. The last thing that this region needs is a botched deal, signed off in haste, which does not maximise Yorkshire’s economic potential.

This process has been made more challenging by South Yorkshire councils opting, possibly unwisely, to forge new alliances with counterparts in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.

The number one priority must be agreeing the leadership model which can yield the most jobs and investment – the last thing that taxpayers here will tolerate is a convoluted tier of bureaucracy which becomes a drag on the public purse because politicians and officials become so bogged down in the minutiae that they lose sight of the bigger picture.

However, council chiefs do need to remember that every devolution settlement signed off by George Osborne has included an elected mayor and the Chancellor does not intend to make a concession to Yorkshire.

Given this, perhaps they should be asking the Treasury to make a specific commitment for Yorkshire’s benefit as a quid quo pro? They should not be afraid of asking the question.

A powerhouse of learning

If anyone were to doubt the vital role universities play in the economies of the towns, cities and regions in which they operate, one only has to look at the Economic Impact Report Investing in Knowledge produced by the University of Leeds.

The importance of universities in supporting growth, particularly at a regional level, is increasingly well understood – indeed the assumption that they are merely distinguished centres of learning could not be more off target. And while their role is, of course, to nuture and develop the business brains, artists and politicians of the future, the report ably demonstrates how they are, in their own right, 21st century powerhouses of entrepreneurial spirit and innovation generating millions to the UK economy (£1.3bn in the case of the University of Leeds).

If a Northern Powerhouse vision is to achieve its full potential, then it is key that the role of this region’s universities is a pivotal one.