An article in today's Mail on Sunday has a copy of a "secret memo"* sent by the Secretary of State for the Environment to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. This memo lists a number of measures that the government should consider introducing in order to make the general population more environmentally conscious. Let's take a look at some of these proposals and run them through the cynic's filter, shall we?
- Increase vehicle excise duty for gass guzzlers: hmm, ok I guess but there are some people (farmers, etc) that need such vehicles and why should they be penalised just because DINK1 and DINK2 each want an 4x4 drive to work? As well as raising the duty, why not make it claimable as an expense for those engaged in agricultural work, as long as it was under a certain age. This would give farmers a reason to upgrade to cleaner models, and penalise the urban off-roader (which is the true intent of the tax).
- Exemption from stamp duty for zero-carbon homes: fantastic idea, however I would also like to see greater rebates for those wishing to upgrade their homes, such as additional double-glazing, windmills or solar panels.
- Increased tax on aviation: no! economic growth in the airline industry can lead to greater uptake of newer models which are more efficient and less polluting. Just give airlines (and manufacturers) a reason to upgrade.
- Pricing to reflect enviromental cost: a nice idea in a utopian society, but if the government wants to encourage economic growth, raising prices will not achieve this unless salaries rise correspondingly - something that the government will not want.
- Public sector activities to be more environmentally conscious: nice idea, but I would have expected most sectors to be reasonably environmentally aware. The only exception would be the armed forces, and really there's not a lot that can be done without massive expensive.
All in all, there are some good ideas, a few not so well thought out ideas and a couple of mistakes. Putting my cynical head on, it is likely that the tax increases will adopted a lot quicker than anything that either provides rebates or increases public spending. One thing Gordon Brown is not averse to is putting his hand in the electorate's pocket.* The classification of it is actually Restricted which is the lowest classified level for Government documents, but lets not get hung up on semantics here.