Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Solar Panels

There are now nearly 1 million solar panel installations in the UK.
Most of these have been installed over the last decade, with the majority under-pinned by financial support by a variety of government grants. The big impetus came in April 2010, when electricity suppliers became obliged to pay a feed-in tariff (also known as ‘clean energy cash-back’) to people who generated their own renewable electricity. 
As a result, a number of organisations started offering free solar panels to some households and businesses. The deal was that that the home-owner or business got free electricity and the organisation took the income from the surplus electricity produced and which was fed into the national grid.
A number of constituents came to see me saying “Free electricity sounds like a really good deal, doesn’t it? What’s the catch?” As a result, seven years ago, I posted an article 1 advising that having solar panels on your home might be a really good thing, but you ought to ask a lot of questions – and get the answers – before proceeding.
The questions included:
• What are the guarantees about electricity production from this system?
• What happens if the kit stops working?
• Will it affect my mortgage?
• Do I need planning permission or building regulations approval?
• What happens if I want to sell my house but the buyer doesn’t want the kit?
• Who is responsible for any damage to neighbouring properties during installation?
• What happens if the organising company goes out of business?

As a result, I hope that local people did their homework and got the best deal they could, and avoided potential disasters, before signing on the dotted line.
Recently, the House of Commons’ Library published a very useful Q & A on Solar Panels 2 .
There is still support available for installing renewable technologies such as solar panels through Feed-in tariffs. Such schemes boosts the UK’s renewable capacity and can reduce household consumption, and possibly bills, for homeowners with panels.
However, just as in 2010, there are lots of questions you need to ask before going ahead. This independent analysis will help you to decide if and when.
1 11 November 2010


Tuesday, 3 October 2017

School Budgets

Children have gone back to school, but governors, teachers and parents are still no wiser about school budgets for the next three years.
The 2015 Conservative manifesto promise to maintain school budgets through to 2020 has already been broken. The Core Schools Budget has been falling since 2015, for the first time since before 1997. Analysis by the National Audit Office suggest that school budgets have been cut by some £2.7 billion in real terms since 2015.
The Conservative government is still planning to introduce a National Funding Formula for schools, which would redistribute the existing national schools budget. The redistribution would not only impact on differentials between areas throughout England, but also between schools in the same area.
When the then Deputy Prime Minister, having previously promised every school in his Sheffield Hallam constituency that they would be better resourced by a national funding formula, the former MP Nick Clegg went strangely quiet when this proved to be far from the case. Perhaps it’s part of the explanation for him being the former MP?
When the government’s latest plans were announced last year, they were met with opposition from many Conservative MPs when it emerged that many schools in their areas would lose out under the plans.
The consultation on the government’s plans closed a while ago now. The Secretary of State had said that the government would respond recently. But Mrs May’s government is looking so weak and wobbly that no-one will be surprised if there is another delay.
In the 2017 general election manifesto, Mrs May made a pledge that no school would lose funding as a result of the introduction of a new National Funding Formula. Then, in July, the Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening, outlined an increase in the amount of funding each pupil would receive in 2018-19 and 2019-20, with additional increases for ‘underfunded schools’. But no details are available.
While the Secretary of State has outlined plans for an increase in funding of £1.3 billion across 2018-19 and 2019-20, this would do nothing to reverse the impact of existing cuts and schools across the country, so schools  will still be worse off than they were in 2015.
It has also become clear that these ‘additional resources’ for the schools’ budget are to be funded by a series of cuts to other education budgets, but Ms Greening has refused to say where and what the impact will be.
Unsurprisingly, she has continually ducked the basic question: Will there be any schools who will be worse off, in real terms, in 2020 than they are now?

I can tell you the answer: “Most of them.”

Monday, 2 October 2017

On your way, Mrs May

Shortly after the June general election, former Tory chancellor George Osborne described Theresa May as a ‘…dead woman walking and the only question is how long she remains on death row.’
Of course, this had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that May had sacked Osborne the day after she became the new Tory leader and Prime Minister. And, clearly, Osborne’s expectation that May would have to resign within weeks did not come to fruition.
However, as the Conservative Party Conference opens, all the talk is about who will be the next Tory leader. It is clear that Theresa May will not lead the Tories into the next general election. She was elected Tory leader because of who she was not, rather than who she is or what she represents.
Every day, she increasingly looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Her Brexit strategy – and I am being generous, because it is clear that she never had one – has been torn to pieces, as each and every assertion she and her other Cabinet Ministers have made about the terms of exit and ‘the new promised land’ have proved fatuous. She is not leading, but being blown from pillar to post by reality and by the UK’s deteriorating economic prospects.
It’s little wonder that, not too long ago, the international credit rating agencies cut the UK’s ratings because the likelihood of a hard Brexit and a squeeze on the public finances would damage the UK economy’s long-term health. And, now, the British Chambers of Commerce, representing businesses employing nearly six million people, have called for Mrs May and her Ministers to stop arguing about Brexit and to show "competence and coherence".
Within that context, it’s no surprise that the Conservatives are simply unable to make realistic responses to the key issues on the domestic agenda and are simply unable to set out sensible policies to address the growing crises, for example in housing, adult social care, and higher education (including tuition fees and maintenance allowances).
Quite disgracefully, the government won’t even ‘pause’ the timetable for the roll-out of Universal Credit to prevent thousands of low-income working families becoming embroiled in debt and the prospects of eviction.

On your way, Mrs May.