Military spending was a hot topic in the General Election. Specifically the charge that the UK is about to fall foul of NATO guidelines which require each member country to spend at least 2% of Gross Domestic Product on defence. Up until now, the UK has always complied. Cue claims about ‘punching above our weight’. But future projections do show clearly that we will be undershooting from 2016 onwards.
There are really not many votes in spending lots of taxpayers¹ money on military hardware or extra squaddies. But that 2% figure does have real political relevance.
Do not panic. I have a cunning plan that can get the new government firmly off this hook.
At present, around 45% of the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s annual budget is spent on dealing with nuclear waste. In round sums, that costs around £2.5bn a year. Obviously a fair portion of that is attributable to dealing with the waste products of civil nuclear power. But equally obviously the rest is down to dealing with military nuclear waste.
Precisely how this is divided remains an Official Secret. Unofficially I am told it works out at around 80:20, in favour of civil expenditure. But nobody ever confirms or denies this. So the precise breakdown has never been stated.
So, what if the Ministry of Defence were to undertake some careful recalculations? And establish that the more appropriate balance is still 80:20, but the other way round. With the military taking the lion’s share?
At a stroke, and with no additional expenditure, the amount of GDP spent on defence would escalate from just £500m to £2bn a year. That additional £1.5bn now attributable to military nuclear waste handling would certainly ensure that the UK will comply with the 2% of GDP defence pledge for many, many years to come. I think it is called creative accounting?
Those of my devoted readers who have wondered quite what it is that the Green Investment Bank (GIB) does, that other conventional banks don’t do, need only to travel to Glasgow to find out the answer. And the answer is: they change light bulbs.
In practice, precisely 10,000 street lanterns are to be upgraded. That means changing every installation along the city¹s main arterial roads. Glasgow has become the first local authority to use the GIB’s ‘Green Loan’ fund, which offers a fixed-rate loan for a period of up to 25 years to finance public sector energy efficiency projects.
To do this, the City Council is being loaned £6.3m. Which by my maths works out at a cost of some £630 per light bulb changed. Which even in these days of zero inflation, does seem really rather pricey.
Glaswegians taxpayers will be delighted to learn that the GIB is even now negotiating a further ‘development loan’ with Glasgow City Council, designed ‘to help local authorities with the costs of progressing their plans.’
I am told that jokes about ‘how many bankers’ bonuses does it take to change a street light?’ can even now be heard echoing up and down Saucciehall Street.
Spring a surprise
I write this prior to the General Election vote. But when you read this, you will know whether or not UKIP did succeed in winning its top target seat from Labour. This was Grimsby in Lincolnshire.
This was the constituency in which the UKIP candidate, Victoria Ayling, uttered the most immortally stupid phrase at a ‘meet the candidates’ debate. Responding to her Green Party rival, Ms Ayling demanded: “And what will happen when renewable energy runs out?”
So, if the voters of Grimsby did spring a surprise, and vote her in, it seems we could be in for some wonderfully ill-informed times ahead in Parliament.
Not up for negotiation
The heavyweight newspapers have been full of ads from such benevolent oil and gas companies as Statoil, Chevron and Shell, each overtly pointing out how much less damaging their fuels are to the climate than coal. Effectively, these are intended to divert political attention away from them. And instead switch the spotlight firmly on to the solid fuel companies.
This is causing some consternation within the coal industry, which clearly fears that at the grand U.N. climate change summit in Paris this December, their product will come under great pressure , both from consumers and investors.
Hence the announcement by the World Coal Association that it is stepping up calls for the oil and gas industry to stop targeting coal companies, but instead to join forces with them to counter climate change campaigners.
In practice, that has long been happening. Every year in the US alone, around 900 million dollars is spent collectively by interests that lose out commercially from attempts to combat climate change. It is no coincidence that a majority of State Governors, of Senators and Congressmen, still purport to believe there is no problem. Or more accurately, to hide behind the phrase “I am not a scientist” so often trotted out by the crowd in charge of the US Congress.
If the fossil fuel interests are at last falling out amongst themselves, that can only be a good thing for the climate. Emerging as we now are from a tedious and puerile General Election campaign, we should at least take comfort from the agreement from the start between the big three party leaders that the UK’s impressive national commitments on climate change were not up for renegotiation.