Utility Week

UTILITY Week 6th October 2017

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10 | 6TH - 12TH OCTOBER 2017 | UTILITY WEEK Policy & Regulation Lobby Policy / Budget / Brexit Policy & Regulation Power to the people Suspicions that Labour might water down the left-wing agenda in its election manifesto were dispelled at its conference, says David Blackman. L abour is on its way back to government was the bold message from leader Jeremy Corbyn in the confident speech that rounded off his party's annual conference. Yet the gathering in Brighton last week underlined how different this Labour admin- istration would be compared with the last one that occupied No 10 Downing Street. Any suspicions that Labour might water down the le-wing agenda outlined in its June election manifesto were swily dis- pelled by shadow chancellor John McDon- nell's speech to the conference on Monday. The party's leadership clearly feels that June's result, when Labour outperformed the expectations of all but its most optimis- tic supporters, was a signal that it should be bolder on the policy front. McDonnell's promise to buy back private finance initiative contracts illustrated how determined the top team is to bury the legacy of the Blair/Brown governments, which had been such enthusiastic proponents of the controversial mechanism. The conference underlined Labour's strong support for renewable energy, which has become more totemic on the le follow- ing US president Donald Trump's decision to quit the Paris climate change agreement. Labour's business, energy and indus- trial strategy (BEIS) shadow secretary of state Rebecca Long-Bailey told a reception of green groups that cutting carbon emis- sions would be at the "core" of the party's approach to energy policy. And McDonnell said in his speech that the public-owned energy companies, which Labour is championing, would be based on renewable power sources. Meanwhile, the nuclear industry will be glad that Corbyn showed little appetite for stoking the party's internal divisions on nuclear power. Former energy and climate change shadow secretary Lisa Nandy revealed at a fringe meeting that she had been assured by Corbyn, when she agreed to serve in his shadow cabinet, that his main concerns were about military rather than civilian nuclear. Long-Bailey provided further succour when she expressed concerns that the row over the cost of the Hinkley plant's strike price was providing a "skewed and unfor- tunate" perspective on the wider nuclear programme. But the conference showed that the Labour leadership is going for broke with a more radi- cal approach to ownership of the utilities. At the general election, Labour had pledged to bring National Grid back into public ownership and regain control of net- works by altering their licence conditions. But McDonnell's statement that Labour is "taking back ownership and control" of the utilities, including water and energy, is much broader. Labour's radical mood on the issue was captured at a fringe meeting by Long- Bailey's predecessor Clive Lewis. "We have a system that is not fit for purpose with large corporates making vast profits from our natural resources," he said. The distribution network operators should be first in line to be taken back into public ownership, argued Sam Mason of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, at the same meeting. "Distribution operators take enormous profits out of the system: we argue that distribution and trans- mission need to be taken back first and then sort out the energy mix that goes into it." Analysts at Jefferies have calculated that renationalisation of utilities would cost a future Labour government £77 billion at current prices. But Cat Hobbs of We Own It told the fringe meeting that bringing utilities back into public ownership was affordable. She said the anti-privatisation campaign had estimated it would cost £15-20 billion to compensate the shareholders of the gas and Labour conference 24-27 September 2017 Brighton PHOTOS: PA IMAGES

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