9 September, 2023
The Daily Telegraph, by Ben Marlow

mid the endless doom and gloom it is easy to forget that Britain remains a world beater in hi-tech fields such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing, also life sciences, financial services and the creative sector.

The Government likes to bleat about this 21st century cutting edge as if it has somehow had a hand in the success of our best industries. More often than not the opposite is true: the competitive advantages Britain still clings to are in spite of ministers not because of them. In fact, whenever Whitehall is called upon, the results are almost always catastrophic. This is a government whose capacity for self-harm knows no bounds.

Take offshore wind. Whatever your view of renewable energy is, the UK is an undisputed global powerhouse when it comes to the offshore wind industry. With a giant coastline, good wind speeds, and a relatively shallow seabed, this country boasts many of the largest offshore wind sites in the world.

Meanwhile, 14GW of installed capacity puts us second in the world behind China with nearly 26GW as of 2022, and is responsible for 11pc of our electricity.

But our position is now seriously under threat thanks to the absolute shambles that was the latest auction for renewable energy contracts.

There were seven new contracts to build massive offshore wind farms around Britain on offer in what was the fifth auction of its kind. However, not a single wind farm developer submitted a bid for any of them for the simple reason that the industry cannot deliver projects at the £44 per megawatt-hour strike price cap that the Department for Energy – a misnomer if ever there was one – was offering.

Even by this Government’s woeful standards, it is a quite staggering own goal for a country that sees itself as a clean energy trailblazer and has some of the most ambitious net zero targets on the planet. Energy minister Graham Stuart can point all he likes to “a record number” of solar, onshore wind and tidal power projects, but he’s grasping at straws.

As Dan McGrail, chief executive of RenewableUK, points out, offshore wind is meant to be “the backbone of our future energy system”.

Perhaps this is no surprise given the Government’s truly dire record on energy. As Ed Miliband gleefully says of the Tories: “They broke the onshore wind market, undermined the solar industry and caused chaos with botched home insulation.”

But like so much of what happens under Rishi Sunak, and Boris Johnson before him, this will be remembered as yet another totally avoidable fiasco. Ministers were warned repeatedly that unless the goalposts were shifted, the spiralling costs of building offshore wind projects meant the economics no longer stacked up under the current CFD regime.

Once again, our political masters are guilty of being horribly shortsighted. Yes, there’s a quick cost saving – but the result, as experts rushed to point out, is higher energy bills in the long-term.

According to estimates from RenewableUK, the offshore wind projects eligible for this year’s round could have “powered nearly 8 million homes a year and saved consumers £2bn a year compared to the cost of electricity from gas”. And although the cost of offshore wind has risen, it is still significantly cheaper than new gas plants.

Former No10 energy adviser Sam Richards is right to lambast “complacency and incompetence”. The same can be said of the concrete crisis in schools, the public finances, a creaking electricity grid, a water network racked with disrepair, bursting prisons and a transport network that is no longer fit for purpose.

Problems repeatedly escalate into crises. The Government has been too preoccupied with Brexit, both before our departure from the EU and since, whether it’s trying to unpick its many shortcomings, or desperately searching for examples of where it has worked – hence the endless manpower spent fixating on trade deals that will bring little benefit to the nation.

It has been beset by in-fighting and back-stabbing, ministers are too bothered about their egos and own personal profile, too obsessed by the culture wars and forever trying to cover up mistakes. Cronyism is rife. Time and again we see a Cabinet stuffed with lightweights, lacking the intellectual rigour and just as importantly the principles that provide accountability condemning us to a political vacuum.

It means the bigger picture stuff has either been forgotten about, overlooked, or deliberately avoided. It shows a paucity of ambition and vision, an unwillingness to take responsibility, and a terrible misunderstanding of what this country needs and what people want to see.

But more than anything this is a government that is now acting as though it knows its fate. With an election around the corner, it should be fighting for every vote but with Labour looking and sounding more like a Cabinet in waiting, it’s as if Sunak and the rest have given up.