2010-03-20

Trevor Carbin Responds

To his credit, Trevor Carbin has responded to my previous comments. Here is our dialogue in full:

1. A five-year programme to insulate every school and hospital.

Me: I believe that a decision like this is for each school or hospital individually, not something that should be dictated by central government. Furthermore, it's not right that government has a monopoly on providing state funded schools and hospitals. Please end this monopoly and give the public choice, so that standards are raised.

Trevor: We do support as much independence as possible for schools and hospitals. The assumption is that as this programme would be beneficial they would accept it and would not decline the opportunity to cut their heating bills and reduce energy use. I don't suppose it would be forced on any school/hospital which didn't want it.

Me: Schools and hospitals should be given the choice on how they spend money given to them, it shouldn't be dictated by central government. Under your scheme they can either spend the money on insulation or not at all. What if a school has already spent some of its budget on good insulation in previous years, but wanted to spend your new money on a new teacher? Why are you going stop them?

Trevor: I wouldn't describe the current state education system as a monopoly as other parties than the government are involved.

Me: It's a monopoly because only the government can provide state funded schooling. The monopoly could be ended by allowing any organization to set up a school, and they would receive state funding for each child whose parents decide to send them to that school. Please give parents the choice and end the state monopoly.

Trevor: Where there's taxpayer funding there needs to be political oversight, though preferably more at local rather than at national level.

Me: There does need to be oversight, and this would be provided by Ofsted.

Trevor: The government has been promoting choice in education but I'm not convinced it's driven up overall standards.

Me: They haven't given us choice in education, we're still stuck with the state monopoly.


2. Funding insulation and energy efficiency for a million homes, (with a £1,000 subsidy for a million more).

Me: This is a terrible idea, as it rewards the feckless householder who hasn't insulated her house, and is no help to the responsible person who has already spent their money on insulation. Please don't do this. Instead spend the money on *paying off* the nation's debts, not adding to them.

Trevor: It's not free money - the initial cost is repaid over time by the householder via their fuel bills.

Me: The problem is that we all pay, but the person who has already insulated their house doesn't benefit. This policy punishes good behaviour, and rewards bad behaviour. Please withdraw it.

Trevor: Reductions in fuel imports would benefit the national economy.

Me: Not necessarily! This is economic illiteracy! The amount saved by not importing fuels could be outweighed by the amount we gain by importing them.


3. Building 40,000 extra zero-carbon social houses.

Me: What do you mean by zero-carbon? I suspect you subscribe to the bonkers idea that every house should be self sufficient in renewable energy. Why shouldn't I buy cheap renewable electricity rather than expensively generate it myself. Self-sufficiency is a bogus aim.

Trevor: 'Zero carbon' in this sense means not requiring fossil fuels for space heating. The building standards required to achieve that pay for themselves in energy savings. Yes, total self-sufficiency is probably not practicable for most individual homes but that's not a reason for not moving towards it.

Me: Self sufficiency is not a desirable aim. How can you so lightly dismiss the principle of comparative advantage? I say again, 'Why shouldn't I buy cheap renewable electricity rather than expensively generate it myself?'


4. Buying 700 new train carriages.

Me: First the bank bail-out, then the train operator bail-out. The train operating companies should be buying new carriages *not* the taxpayer. Really, you can't get enough of perverse incentives can you?

Trevor: Again they wouldn't simply be gift-wrapped and handed over. There would have to be detailed negotiations with the companies on how the carriages were to be used and how the cost of the investment was to be repaid. Meanwhile the potential benefit for the travelling public on lines currently suffering from under-investment and overcrowding would be significant.

Me: UK rail companies are already subsidised by about £5bn / year. This should be withdrawn. I commute by train every day between Trowbridge where I live and Bath where I work. I look to a future government to be tough with these train operating companies, not to give them any more money. You say that there will be detailed negotiations. I think you're being incredibly naive. These companies will take the money and run. They're much better at negotiating than civil servants. The rail companies should be given the message that the way to make money is by serving customers better, not through government handouts.


5. Re-opening old railway lines and stations, opening new ones, and electrifying the Great Western and Midland mainlines.

Believe it or not, I don't have an opinion on this.


6. Installing energy and money saving smart meters in every home within five years.

Me: I can't believe you've been lobbied into funding the energy companies. They're *private companies* please don't give them our money, please please.... What do you mean by smart meters? Do you mean that meter readings are collected remotely so that meter readers don't have to go out in their vans and read meters? If this is cheaper, then energy companies will install them of their own accord, if not, then why do it?

Trevor: Smart meters have potential benefits both for suppliers and consumers. If the energy companies install them in their own way they would tend to maximise the former possibly at the expense of the latter. By intervening in the process the cost and energy savings for householders can be increased. The most immediate effect is that when we're made aware of the running costs of appliances we tend to waste less energy. There's also potential for more off-peak tariffs and even for switching between suppliers to get a cheaper rate.

Me: I agree with this, but it can be done through the regulator, Ofgem, mandating that all energy data that's recorded for billing is made freely available to the customer. Government doesn't have to shell out our cash to energy companies to achieve what you describe above; you've fallen prey to their lobbying. It's your job to resist big, politically well-connected companies that are trying to get a handout from government.

1 comment:

  1. Depressing reading. Not sure I can vote for the LDs with opinions like this. Miserable sticking-plaster solutions for proplems that all need dealing with in a more direct way (ie. re-nationalising the railways if they can't run them properly!)

    ReplyDelete