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andreweibi2013

Pickles’ bad faith at odds with Cameron’s objectives

The Prime Minister has set the challenge to his Cabinet: “I want Britain to be the most energy-efficient nation in Europe”. Sadly it seems that one member is consistently working in precisely the opposite direction.

Eric Pickles has been the Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government ever since the Coalition took office almost three years ago. During that time, he has presided over, indeed sometimes personally made, a whole series of policy decisions undermining David Cameron’s declared objective.

The litany of failure is as consistent as it is long. Let me seek to enumerate just some of these failures where in each case Mr. Pickles seems wilfully to have sought to obstruct progress. This despite his having been the chairman of the Conservative Party who promoted the catchphrase “Vote Blue, Go Green.”

He has undone effective policies he inherited. Back at the start of the century, the government and the building sector came together to agree a pathway to higher new building energy standards, at a time when ours were 25 years behind those adopted in European countries with similar climates. In exchange for a roadmap providing relative certainty regarding timing and extent of change, the construction industry undertook to invest in the necessary training of operatives and product development, eventually to achieve zero (or very low carbon) carbon buildings.

Smooth introduction

The deal stuck. In 2006, and again in 2010 the improvements were made smoothly, and without discord or rancour. The next round of changes had been due to start next month, the final round before Zero Carbon Homes were due to be introduced in 2016. Despite issuing a consultation document back in January 2012 promising these upgrades, they will not now go ahead in April.

Even when they finally proceed, they will inevitably deliver far less than intended. Although it has long been established that vast numbers of new homes fail to comply with the minimum building regulations standards, nobody at Mr. Pickles’ department monitors compliance.

In contrast, if you put on the market a washing machine that doesn’t deliver the promised energy savings, the National Measurement Office, part of the Department for Business Innovation & Skills can – and does – take out criminal proceedings against you. Such goods can cost just 1 per cent of the price of a new home. Yet nobody has ever been prosecuted for failing to comply with the energy conservation parts of the building regulations.

The position is, if anything, worse with existing buildings. Under new EU laws, all advertising for a building either sold or leased is supposed to include its A to G energy label. And each new occupant must receive details of the energy performance, and how it can be improved. A series of independent surveys have revealed that these legal requirements are seldom observed. Such is Mr. Pickles’ department indolence that not only have they never troubled to monitor levels of compliance, they even omit to inform council trading standards officers of the need to monitor advertising requirements – thus ensuring that even the most diligent council officer helps breach the law.

An earlier EU directive had led to the introduction of display energy certificates in the foyers of 42,000 public buildings. Renewed annually, and reflecting annual energy usage, they were stimulating big efficiency improvements. But since 2010 there has been no pressure to keep these updated, so many are failing to do so, in part because now Mr. Pickles has also whimsically decided that smaller buildings need only renew every ten years. And he is perversely not requiring the commercial sector to display such useful certificates, but instead mandating that “in a prominent place” there will be details only of a building’s theoretical performance.

 Lack of consultation

Such idiocy occurred largely because he refused to consult with anybody about how the final text of the new buildings directive should be implemented. Perhaps it is because he knows that, even if he does run a public consultation, he may subsequently reverse his position entirely – even if 82 per cent of respondents endorse his original proposal. This is what happened in the case of his infamous “consequential improvements” consultation- a policy he now rejects despite having claimed £11bn saving to the economy and the stimulation of 2.2m Green Deals.

Other examples of bad faith include the refusal to permit any targets in the revised guidance for local authorities for the Home Energy Conservation Act (despite it being legal to do so); and the covert briefing to landlords that the outlawing under the Energy Act 2011 of F and G rated properties after 2018 will never be implemented in practice, and even if implemented never monitored.

I am not qualified to form a judgment upon Eric Pickles’ effectiveness in other areas of policy outwith that which directly affects the use of energy in buildings. For all I know, he may well be Demosthenes and Ghandi combined. What I do know is that to date his period in office has been an almost unmitigated disaster so far as the energy efficiency agenda is concerned. And certainly so far as achieving Cameron’s declared objectives.

As Mr. Cameron reminds us: “In a race for limited resources, it is the energy efficient that will win the race.” Perhaps Mr. Pickles should be donning his running shoes PDQ.

 

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Comments (14)

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    Peter Thom

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    Spot on Andrew, keep up the pressure for consistentcy in Government policy, the policing of regulations and hopefully one day not letting the Daily Mail dicate policy to Government. Do they not realise how weak this makes them look?

    Reply

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      Laurence Budge

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      I admire and respect your work on this issue and you may say I am pessimistic but Cameron’s rhetoric is constantly contradicted by his ministers as well as his own appointments. He knew Pickles outlook when he appointed him. He appointed Owen Patterson and Peter Lilley to prominent roles in Environment and Climate Change departments and George Osbourne continues to promote the energy intensive, environmentally disastrous Fracking. Michael Gove intends removing Climate Change from the school curriculum. All of this heads in one direction and it isn’t Green.

      Reply

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        Andrew warren

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        Dear Laurence Budge

        Thank you for these very kind and genrous compliments; they are much appreciated. I am surprised that you claim that the Prime Minister” knew Pickles’ outlook when he appointed him.” in precise, it was precisely when Mr Pickles was chairman of the Conservative Party that the seductive slogan ” Go Green, Vote Blue” was adopted. So all of us might reasonably have expected more from him.

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          Laurence Budge

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          Am I cynical in thinking that political slogans are adopted for electoral purposes and readily discarded when they have served their purpose? There seems a mismatch between rhetoric and action across the spectrum on green issues. But of course you want to influence these people towards sane policies so must treat them as if they mean what they say. I wish you success

          Reply

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      Andrew warren

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      Peter
      Thank you for these kind comments, which coming from you in particular are much appreciated. I do hope you will keep on fighting the good fight against irrational policy making too.
      Andrew

      Reply

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    Lev

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    Best article I’ve read for some time. Keep up the good work.
    After the “conservatory tax” saga it will take a brave politician to add any rating (even a “G”) to the Energy Act to outlaw badly performing properties.
    Who is the bravest of them all?

    Reply

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      Andrew warren

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      Dear Lev
      Thank you for these flattering remarks. I would remind you that it would require overt repealing of the Energy Act 2011 to remove the requirement for landlords to upgrade F and G rated buildings marketed from 2018: indeed the Climate Change minister reinforced this in a Parliamentary answer just last week. My main concern is that it will fall to Eric Pickles’ department to oversee compliance with the law. And recent history suggests an unwillingness by that Department to police any energy efficiency- related laws.

      Reply

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    Andrew Warren

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    Dear Graham Farrall

    Thank you for contacting us. The only consolation i can offer is that yours is one of many firms anxious to deliver technologies that would improve the UK’s building stock. But are constantly frustrated by the inconsistent, irrational and often downright perverse policies that are too frequently pursued by Eric Pickles in his Department.

    Reply

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      graham farrall

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      Thank you Andrew We will keep trying knowing full well like” colour televisions” it will happen , even if we have to do the “puppy dog ” close

      Reply

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    Peter Wiltshire

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    Thank you Andrew for this hard hitting and accurate article. This back tracking on promises must stop. We must ensure that standards are enforced, or the whole energy policy becomes invalid. We are in danger of having politicians with less credibility than those in southern europe unless things improve as a matter of urgency.

    Reply

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      Andrew Warren

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      Dear Peter Wiltshire

      Thank you for troubling to write. Your generous comments upon my article are much appreciated. I leave it to others to judge whether politicians in southern Europe should be flattered or disgusted by this comparison.

      Reply

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    Andrew Warren

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    Thank you for your kind comments, and your support. it is much appreciated.

    Reply

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    Donnachadh McCarthy

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    Excellent piece thanks Andrew.

    I wonder if there is a way around the lack of enforcement issue by targetting the environmental health officers and building regs officers instead or indeed elected councillors?

    Reply

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    Andrew Warren

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    Thank you for these kind comments, much appreciated – as your regular columns in the Independent.
    I am not sure that my concern is the lack of ambition amongst elected councillors – many of whom are anxious to move this agenda on, as are many local government officers. The problem lies in this context very largely with the dead hand from and inertia of the officials at the Communities Department, whom I see are now officially the least happy with their work of any civil servants in Whitehall. And as ever this problem starts at the top, specifically with their Secretary of State, Eric Pickles.

    Reply

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