23 February 1998

Mr. John Heppell (Lab. Nottingham, East)

We cannot create energy without some environmental impact. Although it is much better to use sustainable forms of energy creation, such as wind power, solar power and so on, even these have some impact on the environment. We can work at trying to improve the methods of creating energy, but in some respects it is much more important to reduce the amount of energy that we use.

Domestic energy accounts for some 30 per cent. of the energy that is consumed. The Energy Efficiency Bill will affect only a small proportion of domestic energy. It will not, for example, deal with people in council housing or in private, rented accommodation. On energy efficiency we need to concentrate not on one particular measure but on lots of different measures.

Just in terms of trying to save energy the Energy Efficiency Bill is commendable, but from my own point of view, that is not its most important aspect. I like the Bill because it can help tackle poverty. It may not be able to help those who are at the bottom level of poverty, but it will help those on limited incomes who are trying to purchase a house for the first time. It will make people's lives more comfortable but at the same time help to take them out of poverty.

I recognise that the Government are already taking action in that respect. Less well-off domestic consumers are assisted by the Government's home energy-efficiency scheme, which provides some 400,000 grants a year. I accept that the previous Government did a lot of good work in terms of energy efficiency and conservation.

I am not a purist in terms of the environment and I do not advocate year zero. I recognise that other considerations, besides the environment, must be taken into account, including the economy and especially poverty in society. It could be argued that a reduction in VAT will increase the amount of energy used. While that may be marginally right, if the amount of energy used stops an elderly person dying from hypothermia, it is not wasted energy. I want energy to be used in that way.

I am pleased that the Government have gone beyond what the previous Government did. It shows that Labour provides value added. The reversal of the cut of 5.5 million to the Energy Saving Trust is particularly welcome. However, the majority of environmental and energy issues cannot be tackled by legislation. Some legislation is needed, but rhetoric at national level needs to be replaced by action locally. I am much more concerned by what happens locally because that is where policies are delivered. Many councils have gone far beyond their statutory responsibilities and have put much time and effort into ensuring that proper energy-efficiency schemes are in place and the worst-off are helped.

A scheme in my constituency is Nottingham Energy Awareness, which is recognised by all councillors and Members of Parliament who represent Nottingham. We have all been to see projects that it has organised. I shall briefly skim through its aims and objectives, which are: to enable fuel-poor households to save energy in their homes by using it more efficiently; to promote energy awareness through the provision of training for community leaders and those such as local authority staff who come into contact with the fuel-poor in their work; to encourage take up of grant assistance for energy-efficiency improvements, particularly the Government's home energy-efficiency scheme; and to promote the integration of energy efficiency improvements, with maintenance and improvement programmes for the housing stock owned by Nottingham city council and other social housing projects.

The targets that the organisation has set are: energy efficiency improvements; improved management of energy use within the home; reduced fuel bills, easing financial pressure on the household; reducing cold-related health problems; increased comfort in the home; and environmental improvements through cutting emissions of CO2 and other pollutants. The project's principal activities are: the provision of advice on all aspects of energy efficiency through home visits or telephone calls; presentations to community organisations, attendance at exhibitions and working with local media; basic energy awareness training courses for community leaders and local authority staff; promotion of grants and assistance to help them; and energy surveys and audits in the home.

Those activities have been ongoing since 1995, so I admit that some were funded and helped by the previous Government, but it was mainly the local authority's input, and the voluntary sector that worked with the schemes, that kept them going.

Lord Ezra discussed with me a project that he is helping to set up in Nottingham called the Nottingham Energy Partnership. It is a private-public partnership, which will bring together various organisations in Nottingham—the public, private and voluntary sectors, and residents—to improve energy efficiency. It was agreed by the council last November, but is expected to be launched publicly in the spring. Its aim is to analyse energy flows and usage profiles. A preliminary "energy balance" has already been undertaken and details will be at the launch Nottingham did some thermal photography of the whole city to try to establish where the worst places were for energy loss. The project aims to identify ways in which economies could be made in energy use. It also aims to pay particular regard to job creation opportunities, so it involves the economy, as well as the social side, because it also contributes to the anti-poverty initiative.

Finally, it aims to bring enhanced environmental benefits as well.

That seems to be an example of the type of local partnership that is needed to try to change the way in which the general public, business and industry think about energy.

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