“Top Tories” buy into Mail’s mischaracterisation of the Green Deal

  • 16 Apr 2012, 16:30
  • Ros Donald

A group of Conservative ministers led by Chancellor George Osborne told the Sunday Telegraph yesterday that they are lobbying against the Government's Green Deal. They argue it will cost householders "thousands of pounds" - in a quote decidedly reminiscent of several inaccurate statements about the scheme in the Daily Mail and Telegraph last week.

The Sunday Telegraph yesterday quoted a senior Tory source saying:

"The green deal was Chris Huhne's baby. He has gone now and it is the right time to kill it off. Forcing people to pay thousands of pounds for unwanted extra home insulation is the last thing hard-pressed families need at the moment. It's madness."

And having brought the issue to the fore last week, the Daily Mail headlines today on news that the UK's Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is going to " axe" a part of the deal still under consultation - which it calls the 'conservatory tax' in response to the "Tory backlash". End of story, right? But are we all talking about the same thing? A look at the coverage, and comments by the unnamed Conservatives shows just how confused the whole episode has become.

Green measures by "force"

The Tory spokesman's suggestion that householders will be "forced" to outlay "thousands of pounds" echoes reporting by the Daily Mail last week. In a front page headline on Easter Monday, the Mail claimed that home improvements like new conservatories, or replacing a boiler, will " trigger [a] mandatory ten percent levy" to pay for energy saving measures, according to proposals from DCLG.

The story from the department appears to be somewhat different. A spokesperson from DCLG told us today:

"The Green Deal will make homes warmer and cheaper to run, at no upfront cost to householders. Making our homes more sustainable will cut carbon emissions, drive down energy bills and support jobs.

"The separate proposed changes to building regulations are subject to a consultation, which closes at the end of this month. The vast majority of conservatories are not subject to building regulations [ and there are no plans to change this."

To elaborate on this, DCLG told us last week that the existing plans only apply to "substantial extensions" - those that are already notifiable under building regulations, according to the DCLG consultation - this doesn't include most conservatories.  

How much will it actually cost?

And how about the "thousands of pounds" part? Last week, climate skeptic columnist Christopher claimed families could be forced to pay " up to £10,000" in order to ensure that "the house is fully insulated from top to bottom" when installing a new boiler or adding a new conservatory.

As we noted at the time, if a household did end up having to pay up to £10,000 to comply with the 10 per cent rule, the project in question would have had to cost £100,000 - rather an expensive conservatory. Perhaps the figure was cannibalised from earlier Government statements  that householders "will be able to install measures worth up to £10,000" under the Green Deal - but that's not quite the same thing as being forced to borrow £10,000 because you want to replace the boiler.

According to the Guardian, the Department of Energy and Climate Change expects householders to buy around £500-worth of energy efficiency measures through the Green Deal. And, as Geoffrey Lean points out in Saturday's Telegraph, the removal of upfront costs for households that choose to repay through the Green Deal means it could actually make us better off.

Campaign against the Green Deal?

The Sunday Telegraph says the attitude of some Tory MPs to the Green Deal as a whole  "has hardened into outright opposition" following the Mail's "revelations" about the conservatory tax. An (unnamed) Minister told the Guardian:

"It cannot be right that every time your boiler blows up, you have to face the cost of replacing it, but also buying loft insulation. It is piling too much on.

"We need to pause with the green deal and look at it again in the light of the recession."

So, strangely, the misreporting of a consultation by DCLG is being used as a reason to oppose the Green Deal as a whole.

This argument also chimes with previous statements from George Osborne, reportedly at the helm of the attack on the deal within government, about green policies. Since last year, Osborne has been openly agitating against the government's plans to cut carbon, arguing they are harming the UK's competitiveness and adding to energy bills. Where have we heard the point about energy bills before? Oh yes, that's right - just like the 'conservatory tax' story, that started off in the Mail, too.

The even odder thing about all this is that the introduction of energy efficiency measures is central to the government's plans to bring down household energy bills over the next few years. So if the Green Deal is killed off, bills are much more likely to go up - which, according to Osborne and the other commentators, isn't what the deal's detractors want.

Confused yet? Let's sum up. News of a 'conservatory tax' - which isn't a tax, and doesn't apply to conservatories - has led some politicians to oppose different measures, which are ultimately intended to help householders save money, on the grounds that the 'conservatory tax' will be expensive. Those politicians include the minister directly responsible for the proposals in the first place, Eric Pickles. As a result, the plans have been withdrawn, except they haven't been, because they were only ever up for consultation in the first place.


UPDATE 17 April 2012, 10.27: David Cameron has signalled the government will reject the proposed measures, according to the Daily Mail and the Guardian

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