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Our biggest growth is in the green economy, but the Tories won’t listen

What now provides a building block for a genuine export-led recovery? Where is Britain still strong in advanced manufacturing and know-how? What is now a bigger UK sector than car manufacturing, aerospace or telecoms?

The answer, which will surprise many, is the UK green sector. It is now worth more than £120bn a year, equivalent to 8% of UK GDP, and provides nearly 1 million jobs. It exports £800m a year in green goods and services to China, some £330m to the US, and nearly £300m to Germany.

Yet it is derided in government circles and especially on the Tory Right. Nearly 100 Tory MPs recently wrote to Osborne begging him to withdraw support for the UK green industry, an attitude of ideological disdain and economic petulance. It is so much a posture of ‘cutting off your nose to spite your face’ that some Tory MPs, though a much smaller number, have now organised a whip-round to tell Cameron & Osborne not to be so daft.

Renewables is one of Britain’s few aces. It is the assured fuel of the future as fossil fuels either run out or are phased out, and the UK contains more potential capacity in renewables than any other EU country. As an island in the eastern Atlantic it harbours more potential wind-power than almost the whole of the rest of Europe put together, and in the northern arc from Blackpool to the Wash it again holds more wave and tidal power capacity than any State within the EU continent. In addition there is the mooted Severn barrage and substantial untapped hydro-power in Scotland.

Yet, astonishingly, the UK has the lowest renewables-driven generation of electricity of any country in the EU except Malta and Luxenburg. Whilst in France, Germany, Italy and Spain that proportion varies from 10-25% and in Scandinavia from 35-50%, the UK is still stuck on 5%.

What is currently holding back the country from much faster expansion from substantial inward investment is the current deep uncertainty about the government’s future attitude to the industry, and notably to windpower. The much-touted hostility of Tory ministers – Owen Paterson at DEFRA and John Hayes at DECC – has been a big turn-off for foreign investment.

It is tragically ironic that the Tory government is crying out for growth at almost any price, except for the two policies which would actually deliver it – at the macro level a jobs and growth strategy in place of a self-defeating endless programme of cuts and at the micro level the promotion of renewable energy.

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