DECC accused of showing no respect

The chair of a select committee has accused Ministers of trying to dodge Parliamentary scrutiny over a string of renewable energy announcements made during the summer recess.

In his opening statement on 15 October, before Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom was due to give evidence, the chair of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, Angus Brendan MacNeil said her Department’s approach “sadly suggests a lack of respect for the important scrutiny functions”.

Energy Secretary Amber Rudd gave evidence to the committee on the last day before Parliament broke for the summer (21 July), discussing the department’s policy priorities and objectives for 2015.

The following day (22 July), the Department of Energy and Climate Change made a series of announcements around reducing renewable subsidies, involving the Levy Control Framework, the Renewable Obligation and the Feed-In-Tariff.

The day after that, the Government also announced there would be no further funding for the Green Deal Finance Company.

“We were disappointed that DECC decided to make important policy announcements during the summer recess, rather than announce them in the House when all members might have had an opportunity to question ministers on both the reasons for and the potential impact of these decisions,” said Mr MacNeil.

“The decisions have proved to be controversial indeed, there has considerable backlash in the industry and international commentators,” added the committee chair.

But the Energy Minister denied the announcements were timed to avoid Parliamentary scrutiny.

“It is literally the case that when this new Government came into office, we could immediately see there were serious problems with significant impact on consumer bills. 

“We had to take action,” added Mrs Leadsom. “We were literally flat out, trying to ensure we got all the right processes in place for proper consultations and so on. That was the very first date we could make those announcements.

“My Department, right through the summer, has been meeting with stakeholders and businesses in the sector. We have been very busy consulting across the summer and there was no attempt whatsoever to try and avoid Parliamentary scrutiny.”

When quizzed by Mr MacNeil on any potential job losses in the renewables sector brought about by the DECC announcements, she replied:

“The truth is a lot of the renewables sector are very small businesses, who are involved in a diverse range of activities, so it’s not actually possible – other than through consultation - to get a complete handle on how many jobs, or how much business is entirely dependent on the Feed-In-Tariff.”

“I think the consultation with industry has been as open, consistent and as fulsome as possible,” added the Minister. “I also think the overriding priority – that of protecting the bill payer from a significant overspend on the budget for renewable subsidies – was an urgent priority.”

Jamie Hailstone is a freelance journalist and author, specializing in local government, transport and energy issues