UK Politics

Labour plans billion pound public investment in offshore wind and electric cars

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Media captionLong Bailey sets out Labour environment plan

Labour is pledging to invest billions of pounds in electric car production and offshore wind farms to accelerate the "green industrial revolution".

A future Labour government would take equity stakes in car producers in return for a £3bn capital investment in new electric models and machinery.

Thirty-seven publicly-owned wind farms will be built, with the profits used to regenerate deprived coastal areas.

Delegates have been debating the pace of decarbonisation at the conference.

Earlier this year, Parliament approved a law requiring the UK to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, a stricter target compared with the previous one of at least an 80% reduction from 1990 levels.

Labour delegates, many of whom want a more ambitious strategy, approved a motion calling for a 2030 zero net emissions target as part of a green new deal.

This does not automatically become part of Labour's manifesto, however, as the party's policy will be determined during the drafting process.

Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey said she would be willing to support the more ambitious target if there was a "credible plan with trade unions and industry", and a "just transition" that did not adversely affect workers.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Provided we have a plan, I am happy to work as quickly as possible. I know we have got to act faster and we've got to push people to do that."

Some unions, including the GMB, are concerned this is too ambitious and want guarantees that it will not lead to massive job losses in the automotive, energy and industrial sectors.

Firms will be able to bid for funding over two years to bring new electric car models to market, in return for the government taking an equity stake in their business.

A further £2.3bn will be set aside to build three battery plants to supply electric cars. The plants are earmarked for South Wales, Stoke and Swindon - the latter potentially on the site of the Honda factory due to close in 2021.

Labour has already signalled this week it would spend £3.6bn on new electric charging infrastructure and introduce 2.5 million interest free loans to spur the take-up of electric models.

Announcing the new plans, Ms Long Bailey said the state should "not be afraid to intervene" to ensure the success of the automotive sector in light of the huge technological and economic challenges it faced.

"The sector is under siege from Brexit uncertainty and the government's lack of ambition on electrification," she said.

"At the same time, we need to accelerate the shift away from fossil-powered cars if we are to tackle the climate emergency.

"Labour's support package will offer a lifeline for a new clean era of manufacturing."

Analysis: By Roger Harrabin, BBC energy and environment analyst

Jeremy Corbyn has said 2050 is too late to decarbonise the economy, although he hasn't offered an alternative date. The question is: could the UK achieve Momentum's preferred goal of 2030?

Most energy economists say it's impossible without massive social upheaval. Just imagine - no petrol or diesel cars, and no gas central heating.

But an increasing number of people are warning that with climate change accelerating faster than expected, society will need to accept major disruption to protect the planet for future generations.

Labour's plans to support wind energy and battery cars build on Conservative policies which have caused the cost of renewables to plummet.

But will Labour plan cut out the free market competition that's created the fall in energy prices?

Environmentalists will also demand a broader vision of what's known as the "just transition" to a clean economy. They want to see a masterplan for retraining workers from dirty industries and supporting them to move to new areas with clean jobs. They want support for workers too old to retrain.

Follow Roger on Twitter @rharrabin

In a series of green energy announcements on Tuesday, Labour will commit to using billions in public money to accelerate the transition to carbon-free transport and power systems.

Labour is also planning an unprecedented intervention in the renewables industry, modelled on countries including Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

To counter what it says is the domination of foreign firms in the UK's offshore market, it is proposing to take a 51% stake in a new public-private venture, which would build 37 new offshore wind farms capable of supplying the energy needs of 57 million households.

Profits from the scheme would be reinvested in the wider energy network as well as a "People's Power Fund" - which would see up to £1bn each year for recreational and leisure facilities in struggling coastal communities.

This, Labour says, will create 67,000 high-skilled jobs in Scotland, East Anglia, Yorkshire and North-East England.

The CBI said it wanted to work with Labour and other parties to make a success of the transition to a zero-net carbon economy.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Labour says the offshore wind sector is too dominated by foreign firms

But the employers' group said "in the push to reach net-zero as fast and as cost-effectively as possible, renationalisation will hugely disrupt the investment needed in the energy sector to decarbonise".

The Conservatives said the wind farms plan could cost up to £80bn and that "nationalising huge swathes of the energy network" would set back efforts to tackle climate change.

"It is by working with business that we've ensured offshore wind will provide more than a third of our electricity by 2030, tripling the number jobs in the industry and keeping bills low for consumers," said Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom.

Labour has made a raft of policy pledges during its conference, including plans to abolish prescription charges in England, push for a 32-hour working week and integrate private schools into the state system.

The first three days in Brighton, though, have been dominated by Brexit divisions and internal wrangling.

But Jeremy Corbyn received a major boost to his authority on Monday when delegates backed his "wait and see" policy of leaving a decision about which side the party would back in another Brexit referendum until after the next general election.

Deputy leader Tom Watson, who has led calls for a more assertive pro-EU position and who survived efforts to oust him on Friday, will address the conference on Tuesday.