The opportunity for a fresh start

In writing this article, Rishi Sunak had just announced the general election will be held on the 4th July. This is a chance for a fresh start for whoever gets in, and fresh starts are always good

The opportunity for a fresh start

In writing this article, Rishi Sunak had just announced the general election will be held on the 4th July. This is a chance for a fresh start for whoever gets in, and fresh starts are always good. There is a chance to lay everything out on the table, way up the options, prioritise, plan and commit to the future. 

As with many other countries in the world, our country is at a major turning point –  as critical as at the end of World War II. Back in the 40s we transformed agriculture to feed a booming population, we established the NHS to look after our health and we transitioned our industries from a war footing to boost our economy. In 1958 we opened the first motorway as the start of a revolution in transport and in 1961 we had our first attempt to join the EU.  Stuff needed to get done – big stuff –  and we did it. We need to do the same again, but I don’t think we are facing up to the challenge or the opportunity. We need to get to net-zero carbon emissions whilst growing the economy; we need to ensure we have enough young people to look after the old; we need to ensure everyone has enough to eat (but not too much), and we need to repair our natural world. 

These are a few of the more pressing challenges that come to mind and I pick them out because they are not vote winners. The environment is seen as a cost to the poor and too expensive for the government to do anything about; the politics of immigration has fogged the real issue of declining populations; nobody wants to be told they can’t eat doughnuts, and a few bison in Kent is off the radar as most of us live in cities. 

It will be interesting to see if any of the above appear in manifestos but was anyone aware of David Cameron’s government’s wind farm-building frenzy? Not a vote winner at the time, but a significant contribution to our move to renewables. Outside of politicking, I hope the next government can quietly (and, of course, transparently) get on with the big stuff. And why is this important to this journal? All of the above needs industry and entrepreneurs to make it happen as well as inventors and designers to find the solutions. I don’t see them being a ‘cost’; conversely, I see them boosting our prosperity.  Whilst we fret about the downsides, the Chinese are building an export business of cheap electric cars.

It is clear that the new government will not have any headroom to invest and will be unwilling to borrow. Yet, more than government money, industry needs frameworks, guidelines and stability to be able to plan and invest. We don’t want the government moving the goalposts on phasing out fossil-fuelled cars when long-term car design and production need to run to a schedule. If we are to charge these cars, we need a bold plan from the government, and support from the councils, for recharging technology to be developed and installed quickly and uniformly. We need watchdogs to get some teeth and to sort out our water systems and we need to create a positive investment environment to accelerate hydrogen and nuclear power to support our green electricity. We need to encourage solutions to how we are going to transform our drafty Victorian homes into efficient places to heat. That all sounds like a lot of work and it is, but it’s also new businesses, more jobs, more prosperity, more tax money to spend on our health and security, and a potentially massive export market for all that new British innovation and expertise.

Our food production and consumption needs to transform. The drive for cheap food for the masses went too far. Now we need to rethink. The new food systems are complicated.  We need to rebalance meat and arable production and consumption, and we need to integrate and scale up embryonic cellular and precision fermentation industries and vertical farming.  The government should help ease this transition with intelligence, guidance and compassion.  Some recommend swapping subsidies for valorising natural assets to help rebalance the wild with the cultivated. Ultimately, we need to pay more for our food to keep our framers in business. Only a government can address this in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.

At every sustainability conference I’ve attended lately, I hear industry asking for legislation to not limit but to accelerate what they do. This is what the two houses in Westminster are for writing and ratifying the laws we need as a country to get on with the job. Let’s hope that, rather than using the Commons as a political circus, they get on with the job that they are voted in for.  

Nick Dormon
Nick Dormon

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