Are green budgets a thing of the past?

Graphic depicting traditional red briefcase, but fading to green at top, with 3 white question marks in centre, against green backdrop.

New Writing: As the Spring Budget nears, expectations within the UK built environment and sustainable business community are low, given a weak economy and looming Election. Writing for The Hub, the award-winning content platform curated by Mitsubishi Electric, Jim McClelland asks: Are hopes of a green giveaway already history?

This is not just any old Budget. It is likely the last one before a UK General Election, which puts the Chancellor under pressure to pull every policy lever possible to win votes.

In effect, the Government has been electioneering for months now — since the Autumn Statement and before, when the Prime Minister first turned negative on Net Zero, in June.

National debt and a tactical dilemma

Anti-green agendas aside, the fact is the public purse is pretty much empty, anyway.

By the end of the second quarter last year, the UK national debt was equivalent to 101.2% of gross domestic product (GDP). So, there is precious little money to play with, when it comes to dangling fiscal carrots.

This leaves Chancellor Jeremy Hunt facing a tactical dilemma.

The Conservative Party has just suffered two humiliating by-election defeats and is lagging well behind Labour in the polls. All of this is making their sitting MPs very nervous.

Therefore, any cash Hunt can find is desperately needed to offer sweeteners to voters. Top of the incentives wish-list would be personal tax cuts, for both income and inheritance.

This means he has even less to spend on business, unless there is some kind of win-win scenario available that will keep the general public happy at the ballot box too.

Brownfield land and a 99% mortgage

In terms of innovation, the budget may therefore promise slim pickings for clean tech. Renewables are similarly tricky, since onshore wind and solar farms are political hot potatoes at local NIMBY level.

In short, then, what could the Chancellor actually do for business next week?

Well, the Government is working to boost residential development on brownfield land, by making planning permission easier to obtain. This feeds into one of the potential win-win scenarios.

Whilst inflation is coming down in the UK, the cost of borrowing remains high. Therefore, rumours that plans are being drawn up for a 99% mortgage scheme point to home ownership as a policy target.

Also, although the Chancellor is short of fiscal carrots, he can of course still wield sticks.

Time for a reality check in the UK

Looking ahead, though, there is arguably a broader debate to be had about what to expect from politicians, especially on green issues. Here in the UK, at least, it is time for a reality check — maybe the era of Budget giveaways for sustainable business is already over?

So where do we go from here?

For all the predictions and analysis — complete with details of a new report that sets out a practical roadmap for ways to mobilise private-sector investment towards net zero — you can read the article in full here:

Are green budgets a thing of the past?

To view a back-catalogue of articles authored by Jim McClelland for ‘The Hub’, please see archive here.

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