Darren Jones, MP: net zero offers ‘huge opportunity’ for British businesses and communities, but needs the Government to walk the walk

Labour MP for Bristol North West Darren Jones in the second of our 'ECIU Talks...' series.

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By Sepi Golzari-Munro

@SepiGM

Labour MP for Bristol North West and Chair of the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Darren Jones, in the second of our 'ECIU Talks...' series.

Darren Jones highlights gaps in delivery; the Chancellor’s low levels of interest; trade deal deficits; and why the scale and pace of change to get to net zero by 2050 require bold policy, confident politics, and a focus on educating and supporting the public to understand the choices that need to be made. He goes on to distinguish Labour and Conservative approaches while defending the Labour leadership’s approach to climate and environment.

On the Treasury’s flawed approach to net zero

The ‘culture and tone’ of the Treasury needs to shift to align with the Government’s net zero ambitions. He says: “The Treasury needs to take net zero seriously, and so far it hasn’t. Rishi Sunak, as Chancellor, has shown pretty low levels of interest in the net zero transition.

“And I think there was a fundamental flaw in the recent Treasury’s review, where it was just looking at the costs, and not the opportunities for the country.”

On the lack of an industrial strategy

On the Chancellor’s scrapping of the industrial strategy earlier in 2021, Jones argues: “the idea that the government has an industrial strategy is fiction. But it needs one as part of the net zero transition.

“Because, of course, if you are in the steel industry, or the aerospace industry, or car manufacturer industry – huge employers in the UK – you’re going to be making some really huge investment decisions to move off of fossil fuel-based heating, steel, or engine production. And you need government support to do that."

On increased roll out and training opportunities for green jobs

‘Green jobs’, says Jones, is still a ‘political phrase’ that doesn’t yet mean real-life opportunities. He highlights two requirements to change this: “We need to bring up the pace of delivery so that there are more opportunities for people.

“And if you work in a high-carbon industry - or an associated service – where do you look to for advice or support to understand how your job is going to change? Or what skills or training you might need to go on to make sure you can take advantage of new jobs when they arrive? That doesn’t exist yet. The Department for Education and Department for Business need to do more on that.”

On the government’s approach to the net zero transition

“A lot of political debate about how we deliver transformative change is often based on the past, and not the future” says Jones, highlighting outdated arguments between “Thatcher free market liberalism versus 1970s statist nationalisation. Both of those are wrong.

“There is a role for a modern, strategic state – probably with more devolution to regional and local government– and a new partnership with the private sector that needs to be formed to deliver the scale and pace of change required.”

On trade deals and climate diplomacy

The current government has lacked commitment to climate targets when making trade deals, according to Jones, and has been “willing to drop climate commitments in order to get trade deals across the lines. And has not implemented protections around – for example – import of higher carbon products into the UK.

“I think the government needs to have another look at its trade policy in the context of its climate change commitments. And if it really is committed, be confident and bold enough to change its approach to negotiating trade deals. I’ve not seen anywhere near enough action from the Department for International Trade in terms of its climate change responsibilities and the Prime Minister needs to require that.”

On Labour’s climate record and plans for action

Jones points to Ed Miliband – recently appointed Shadow Secretary of State for Climate Change and Net Zero – and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves as examples of Labour’s leadership on climate issues. He sees Labour as now needing to embed the net zero transition across all departmental teams.

“In the same way as in government; whether you’re in the defence department, or the Home Office, we need to be able to show the public why net zero is inherently important across all of those policy areas. And therefore why the policy might look a bit different.”

Full interview with Darren jones, MP

The ECIU Talks… interview series

Next in the ECIU Talks... series

Next in the interview series, we'll be speaking with Lord Michael Howard, former leader of the Conservative Party, as well as former Secretary of State for the Environment, Secretary of State for Employment, and Home Secretary.

To find out about new interviews in the ECIU Talks… series as they go public: