Tuesday 28 September 2021 6:00 am

Editorial: It's time to be straight on the cost of net-zero

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In the final years of New Labour’s time in office, free market campaigners, deficit hawks and the Conservatives sought to change the language used for government projects. For years, Gordon Brown et al had used the word investment to describe the use of public money.

Those campaigners and politicians were successful; first, the word investment changed to spending. Second, David Cameron and George Osborne won an election in 2015 promising less of it. 

But the wheel turns, and yesterday, investment was back. Labour’s new Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, who marks an improvement on her predecessor Annelise Dodds purely by the fact she may well be recognised by somebody outside of her immediate family, promised a £28bn a year climate change spending programme at her party conference.

It would, aides promised, be paid for via government borrowing. 

Whether such a commitment was wise just 48 hours after Reeves had attempted to move on from Corbyn-era spending pledges we shall leave to the political strategists. 

But what it does emphasise is just how much Britain’s commitment to net zero will cost. The official number – £1.4tn – is believed by some, not least a group of influential Tory MPs, to be an underestimate. Such an astronomical number is difficult to comprehend and would be a significant “investment”, to borrow Reeves’ phrase. But much of this will be felt by the individual, through hikes to everyday costs; an extra fiver here or there which stacks up to a mounting bill.

At a time when there still remains no obvious plan for an ageing population beyond panicked tax hikes, nor any clear strategy towards reform of the NHS to bring the gargantuan costs of the service down, we’d rather describe it as an awful lot of spending, very little of it accounted for. 

We are now but 29 years away from our energy d-day. The Government owes it to Britain to be straight about the costs – on energy bills, on supermarket shelves, and on the roads.

Read more: Editorial: Tax-hiking ministers aren’t entitled to demand pay rises, too

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.