When Amber Rudd was called into Downing Street by the new prime minister Theresa May, it was clear the now ex-energy secretary was to be rewarded. Having supported May’s leadership bid and towed the party energy line with unswerving loyalty for the last 15 months, her promotion to home secretary will not be begrudged by many within the Conservative ranks.
In supporting May, Rudd has, of course, ignored her sentiments expressed just weeks before the reshuffle at the Business & Climate Summit in London. Responding to questions on the then favourite for Number 10 Boris Johnson, Rudd was clear that climate change would be at the forefront of who she chose to endorse.
It took Rudd’s horse less than 24 hours to scrap the very department responsible for tackling climate change, but what’s one last hypocrisy between friends?
Her swift promotion left the department in limbo and energy minister Andrea Leadsom took yesterday morning’s DECC orals session. Before it had even started rumours abounded that the department she had served at since last May was to be abolished, and the numerous mentions of BIS throughout the session did nothing to abate them.
David Hanson then quizzed Leadsom on the future fate of DECC, only to be told he’d have to “wait and see”.
The rest of the session played out with an air of resignation. Leadsom was all but clear her future lay outside of DECC, so much so she intimated she’d rather be on a beach in Devon, and spent much of her last hour as she has done the last 15 months; giving very little away, and doing so vociferously. She “did not recognise” any suggestion that investors did not like the look of the UK much. She refuted suggestions DECC was “asleep on the job” over business rates. She nitpicked Barry Gardiner’s questioning over Hinkley, instead of answering him over the worrying quintupling of CfD costs.
The industry could however take some solace. Leadsom’s assertion that you “cannot just magic electricity out of thin air” is evidence that she has at least learnt something during her tenure at 3 Whitehall Place. One would hope that education has also extended as far as her questioning of the veracity of climate change, or those at Defra are in for a shock on Monday morning.
There is now a new era for energy policy in the UK. Former communities and local government secretary Greg Clark will lead the newly-founded department for business, energy and industrial strategy. It’s a shame the rumour that transport was to be rolled in as well proved to be untrue, or Clark would have had a BIEST of a job on his hands.
Clark has been broadly welcomed to the role and he will certainly already be abreast of some of the biggest challenges facing solar at this moment in time. He’ll be well versed in the subject of business rates and could provide some much-needed leadership on the matter, and merely having energy and business under the same remit should help prevent solar from “falling through the cracks” as the Solar Trade Association has feared.
But that is not to say Clark will have it easy. Far from it. He takes the energy remit at a crucial time with the Paris Agreement set to be ratified and the government due to release its carbon plan before the end of the year. There’s a storage call for evidence to push out, an RHI consultation to answer and the next round of CfDs to prepare.
Climate change might be missing from the department’s official title, but Clark was clear in his first statement yesterday that it remains on his radar. “I am thrilled to have been appointed to lead this new department charged with delivering a comprehensive industrial strategy, leading government’s relationship with business, furthering our world-class science base, delivering affordable, clean energy and tackling climate change,” he said.
The next five months will decide whether Clark’s word is worthy.