Ben Bradshaw

Working Hard for Exeter


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Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Climate change is the biggest challenge that any of us or any future generations will face. It is absolutely right that the House should be given the opportunity to debate this important issue, particularly with Paris just a couple of weeks away. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for giving us time to debate this subject. I shall confine my remarks almost entirely to the domestic issues and the Government’s policy on renewable energy and its impact on Britain’s CO2 reduction targets, but also on jobs more widely and the UK’s reputation going into the Paris conference.

As we have already heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), thanks to the information we received via a leaked letter from the Energy Secretary, we now know that Britain is likely to miss our 2020 target of 15% of energy production from renewables by some margin, in all likelihood reaching just 11%. That compares to Germany, which already produces 31% of its energy from renewables. As we have also heard, the cheapest renewable energy by far is onshore wind. It is so cost-effective that is no longer needs any subsidy, but as we have also heard, it has been virtually stopped in its tracks in England by the Government’s planning changes.

Now the Government are proposing to abandon support for solar almost completely, in spite of the growing scientific and political consensus around the world that it holds the secret to our future carbon-free energy needs. The proposed cut in solar feed-in tariffs by a staggering 87% from 1 January will devastate our fledging solar industry and make meeting the legally binding target of 15% by 2020 far more difficult. At the same time, the Government are announcing huge subsidies for nuclear, gas and highly polluting diesel generators. How can that make sense?

We now face a situation in which in a couple of years’ time, renewables could be the only sector not to receive any subsidy. There is also the impact on jobs, our economy and our science base. Our solar industry alone provides 35,000 jobs, including nearly 4,000 in the south-west of England. We face losing 27,000 of those jobs nationally, including more than 3,000 in the south-west, if the proposal goes ahead unaltered. That figure is similar to—indeed, higher than—the job losses recently announced in the steel industry, but these jobs have a far lower profile because they are at small companies, they are scattered all over the country and they do not have a loud enough political voice. The irony is that by 2020 our solar industry could be operating subsidy-free. Indeed, the sector itself acknowledges the common sense in reducing the feed-in tariff, but it believes it should be done in a tapered way, not with a cliff edge, as is currently proposed. As my hon. Friend said, jobs are already being lost because of the uncertainty. We had the announcement of another 35 job losses in Exeter this week alone.

I would like to say a little about the situation facing hundreds of community renewable energy projects up and down the country in the light of recent announcements of changes to the way in which tax relief is administered. As hon. Members will remember, that was announced without any consultation on Third Reading of the Finance Act 2015 at the end of October and is to take effect at the end of this month—just one month’s notice. This, I am afraid, is a disgrace. Those renewable energy schemes at community level get off the ground as the result of the blood, sweat and tears—often over years—of thousands of ordinary, civic-minded citizens, who have now had the rug pulled from under them.

My community energy project in Exeter has been working tirelessly for more than two years preparing its share offer, but it had to rush it out this week, before it was really ready, in order to beat the loss of tax relief at the end of the month. The project has, heroically, managed to raise more than a quarter of the funds it needs, but raising the rest will be much more difficult without the tax reliefs, which have suddenly been taken away. Community Energy England estimates that £127 million of current investment and £242 million of potential future investment is at risk from the decision. When the Secretary of State responds, I would like to know whether she or her fellow Minister were consulted on the change, and if not, why not? If they were, why did they agree to it? I understand that the community energy sector feels so angry and betrayed by the decision that it is considering taking legal action, and I am sure there are many people in this House and outside who would support that.

The Secretary of State asserted earlier in departmental questions that she believed that Britain under the current Government had maintained its leadership role and its international reputation on climate change, but in that case why has Ernst & Young dropped the United Kingdom from the top 10 countries for renewable energy attractiveness? Why did the UN chief environment scientist, Jacquie McGlade, say recently on the BBC that it was

“disappointing…when we see countries such as the United Kingdom that have really been in the lead in terms of getting their renewable energy up and going—we see subsidies being withdrawn and the fossil fuel industry being enhanced”?

She went on to say that she thought Britain was sending a worrying signal in the run-up to Paris by shifting away from clean energy just when the rest of the world was rushing towards it.

David Mowat: I made the point earlier that one of the issues we face is that we confuse decarbonisation with renewables, and I think many of the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks are along those lines. He talked earlier about Germany, which has 34% renewables but very high emissions because it is building coal-powered stations. The Government’s position is to reduce carbon, but not just by using renewables.

Mr Bradshaw: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman: it is not an either/or. What he says about Germany is absolutely right and is due in large part to the, in my view, unusually foolish policy decision by the Merkel Government to withdraw from nuclear. Germany is paying a high price for that, and it is a very good lesson to those of us who advocate an anti-nuclear policy.

Caroline Lucas: I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman’s analysis. Real analysis of what has happened in Germany shows that the reason why coal has come up and taken that space is the lowering of the price, not least because of the dash for gas in the US which has resulted in a low price for coal. That is what has undercut the situation in Germany, not the fact that it has had to get rid of nuclear.

Mr Bradshaw: I am not going to have a ping-pong about it, but I am sure there is a price driver as well. The simple fact is that Germany needed that coal because it had abandoned nuclear energy so suddenly.

When the Secretary of State responds at the end of this debate, I want her to explain to the House and the British public why the Government have adopted the approach they have on renewables since the election. I want an honest assessment from her, given what I have said, of how she feels that has impacted on Britain’s reputation internationally and on our leadership role. I would also like a clearer explanation than we have heard so far from the Government of how they intend to close the gap between our legally binding 2020 target and the current trajectory.

I remember climate change summits not that long ago when Britain was a world leader. The commitment, hard work and leadership of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, John Prescott and my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) delivered real and vital progress globally and at home. Even the current Prime Minister felt the need for a while at least to pay lip service to this agenda, but I am afraid that since 2010, and particularly since this year’s election, the Conservatives appear to have stopped even pretending to take climate change seriously. They are doing real damage to our renewable energy industry, and I believe they are damaging Britain’s reputation in the process.

I hope we will see more progress and a more positive approach in the run-up to Paris, and I hope that the Secretary of State and her colleagues can persuade the rest of their colleagues in government to take this—the biggest challenge both in Britain and globally—far more seriously than they are.

My Speech on the Paris Climate Change Conference

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Climate change is the biggest challenge that any of us or any future generations will face. It is absolutely right that the House should be...

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State now have a go at answering the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) about how many more thousands of jobs will be lost in the renewable energy sector as a result of her Government’s decision to pull the plug on solar and onshore wind? How does she respond to the comments of the United Nations chief environment scientist Jacquie McGlade, who recently said that Britain now, under the Tory Government, is sending a “worrying signal” by “shifting away from clean energy as the rest of the world rushes towards it”?

Amber Rudd: Once more, with the right hon. Gentleman’s comment, we hear an Opposition Member fail to mention the fact, as announced yesterday, that we have put a date on the end of coal. I have received huge congratulations from international commentators. The situation is completely different from the one he tries to paint. The Government are committed to growing the renewable industry, are proud of the amount by which it has grown and will continue to support it, including through job creation.

My Question on Renewable Energy

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State now have a go at answering the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) about...

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Further to the question from the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), will the Minister acknowledge that other EU citizens living here contribute far more through their taxes than they receive in services or social security payments? The problem with social security is not the EU; it is the fact that, almost uniquely, we in the UK have lost the contributory principle from our system. The answer is to start to reintroduce that principle.

Mr Lidington: I would certainly agree with the right hon. Gentleman that in the debate about migration controls, it is important that we not stray into stigmatising people from elsewhere in Europe, or from any other part of the world, who are here obeying the law, working and contributing to life in this country. He mentioned the contributory principle, but that point could also apply to policy pursued under successive British Governments of all political stripes. I draw his attention back to article 153 of the treaty, which makes it clear that it is for member states, rather than the EU, to define the fundamental principles of their social security systems. I believe that it would contradict that treaty provision if we were to say that only one model for social security was compatible.

My Question on Europe Renegotiations

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Further to the question from the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), will the Minister acknowledge that other EU citizens living here...

You can watch my appearance on this weekend's Sunday Politics South West here.

Sunday Politics South West

You can watch my appearance on this weekend's Sunday Politics South West here.

Below is my speech in a debate on school funding in Westminster Hall yesterday.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): I hope to take considerably less than 10 minutes, Mr Walker, although I may take one or two interventions.

We all agree that every child and family deserves the same chance in life when it comes to state-funded education; but at present, as the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart) has so graphically shown, that is not the case. He chose to give figures rounded up or down to zero, but I will give the exact figures produced by the Association of School and College Leaders, which show that, on average, the 10 best-funded areas received grants of £6,297 per pupil this year, compared with an average of £4,208 per pupil in the 10 most poorly funded areas. That means that schools in the best-funded areas get 50% more per pupil than those in the worst-funded areas. As he said, for secondary schools of typical size, the gap amounts to nearly £2 million, the equivalent of 40 full-time teachers.

Devon schools are among the worst funded in the whole of England. We receive £23.4 million less than the national average, and our three and four-year-olds receive £3.7 million less. That means that each individual Devon schoolchild receives £270 less per head than the average for England, and three and four-year-olds receive £620 less per year than the average for England.

The situation in Exeter is even worse, because it is the only urban area of any significant size within the former Devon education authority area. Because of the extra cost of providing school transport or of maintaining small village schools in rural areas, my schools in Exeter are, in effect, hit by a double whammy: they are in one of the lowest-funded counties in England, and they lose out again because they have to cross-subsidise the cost of providing education in what is a largely rural county. Places such as Oxford, Norwich, Cambridge and Ipswich suffer similar double discrimination.

Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for giving me a helpful cue. Does he agree that shire areas in the south-west and the east of England, such as mine, have long suffered from underfunding? That has seeped into the public consciousness, thanks to some powerful campaigns. In my county, the Cambridge News has run a fantastic campaign, and we are beginning to win the argument with the public.

Mr Bradshaw: I entirely agree, and I will come to some of the historical reasons for the underfunding in a minute, but first I want to mention one of my fantastic headteachers in Exeter, Moira Marder, who is the executive head of two of my high schools: St James school and Isca college. She has done comparisons of funding with two cohorts of very similar schools around England and found that St James and Isca are the worst funded of their cohorts in the whole of England. All Members’ local authorities will have suffered big cuts, but our local authority has suffered a 27% cut in funding—nearly 40% in real terms—and we still have to find £135 million over the next four years.

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): An additional problem Wokingham has, as a very low-funded authority, is that a large number—about 13,000—of new homes are being built in very few years. We need to build extra schools and provide extra school places, and the sum is simply far too mean to allow for the extra costs of setting those up.

Mr Bradshaw: We face exactly the same challenge in Exeter, which is a growth area. We have huge additional housing developments everywhere, and I share the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns that the funding formula does not keep up with the growth in demand caused by those developments and growing populations.

I mentioned a moment ago the cost of school transport. I was staggered to discover that transport now takes up 50% of Devon’s total non-schools education budget—that is £20.9 million out of a budget of just over £40 million. Children in Exeter suffer a further injustice. Because none of our schools has a sixth form, all 16-to-19 education takes place at Exeter college. It is an excellent further education college, but as we all know, historically FE has been significantly worse funded per student than school sixth forms. That is now being addressed, but it still has not been addressed completely. FE has also suffered far bigger cuts in real-terms funding under the current Government than schools as a whole—indeed, we are told that further big cuts to FE are in the pipeline. I would argue that children in my constituency therefore suffer a triple disadvantage when it comes to education funding. They are in one of the worst-funded areas of the country—Devon; as urban dwellers, they subsidise the high cost of providing education in a rural county; and from 16 upwards, their only provision is FE, which itself is funded less than schools and faces huge cuts.

In spite of that situation, thanks to the hard work of teachers and students in my constituency, since I have been the MP we have seen a significant improvement in attainment across schools and at Exeter college—but that happened largely in the years of growing investment, when it was easier to deliver. In the past couple of years, there have been worrying signs in some of the schools that that improvement has stalled and might even be going into reverse. I have absolutely no doubt that part of the reason for that is that the headteachers, who are excellent, are struggling to keep the schools running in an effective way and provide the education and the service their students deserve because of the dire funding situation.

I know—my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) touched on this—that a significant reason for that underfunding is historical. I hope the Conservative Members present will hear me out on this. Allocations are based on historical funding levels. I used to cover the education authority in Devon when I was a local radio reporter, and I know that in the past allocations were based on historical funding levels, largely—as we can see from the number of Conservative Members here today—in Conservative shire authorities, which did not spend as much on education as Labour metropolitan authorities. I know that there are exceptions, as the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness indicated, of Labour authorities that would benefit from a reallocation. That historical underspending is one of the main causes of the current injustice.

Given that the Government have moved almost entirely away from funding education through local authorities and that funding is now passported directly to schools, surely there is now no excuse for central Government to persist with this injustice. It is not fair to the children in the constituencies of all the Members of Parliament who are here today and the many who I know would have liked to be here but cannot. At the very least, what we need in the forthcoming comprehensive spending review is a clear commitment, as other Members have said, not only to an intention but to a timescale for delivery, so that we narrow the gap over a small number of years, so that the children of my constituents and of other Members’ constituents have exactly the same opportunities as those in the rest of England. We owe it to them and to future generations. That is a just system, and that is what we should push for.

My Speech on School Funding

Below is my speech in a debate on school funding in Westminster Hall yesterday.

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