What Danny Alexander’s gaffe says on climate spending

Yesterday evening Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander was photographed reading an internal Treasury briefing on Spending Review announcements. When enlarged, the paparazzi shot contained some revelations: most of the coverage has focused on the Government”s acknowledgement that budget cuts could see the loss of 500,000 public sector jobs. But few have picked up that the other page of the briefing discussed environment spending.

A few points emerge from the document:

  • The Government will “improve efficiency of renewable support… on more cost-effective technologies”; possibly code for cutting spending on less advanced renewable technology types like wave and tidal. Chris Huhne yesterday confirmed that plans for the Severn Tidal Barrage had been dropped – though it would have generated 5% of the UK”s electricity from 2020.
  • The UK “will contribute £2.9bn in international climate finance”. The section in the document that states over what time period this will be spent is illegible; if it”s over the next 3-4 years, that will be something of a victory, and less good.
  • A bracketed sentence suggests that the Coalition will “Increase the proportion of revenue coming from environmental taxes”, with a caveat “Do n0t use if no tax announcement”. In an interview back in the summer Alexander stated the Government would “In due course [be]  looking at other ways to rebalance, looking at green taxes. It is about rebalancing.”
  • Lastly, the document claims that “The Spending Review is fair: environmental spending is relatively protected to ensure sustainability for future generations. Over the SR [Spending Review] period, environmental spending will increase [30%] in real terms.” There is no evidence provided in the document to back up this claim.

The proof of the pudding, of course, will come in the eating – and that”s set to come in the next couple of hours as George Osborne unveils the Spending Review proper at 12.30, and over the coming days as more details emerge. I”ll be back with more analysis later today.

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