Creating jobs need not cost the Earth

The link between our financial system and tackling climate change is not an obvious one.  Post-COP the whole world gets the urgency of reducing emissions towards zero.    

But how?  There are big-ticket items, like building a multi-gigawatt wind farm on the Dogger Bank.  Building a gigafactory to electrify Britain’s vehicle fleet.  Things that are happening right now, with our region at the leading edge. 

But if you’re not a multi-billion pound company, what can you do? 

This is where our Green New Deal comes in. 

I’m often asked questions like – “I want to fit solar panels on the roof of my factory, can you help?” The answer is now yes, apply to our Green New Deal Fund.  Businesses can apply for loans, grants and equity for projects between £200k and £2 million.  Not just businesses, also education institutions, social housing providers, not-for-profit organisations and local authorities.

The types of projects could include community energy schemes, electric vehicle charging points, retrofitting buildings to stop wasting heat, small scale renewables, or low carbon heating.  Sometimes working with nature is the best way to take carbon out of the atmosphere, be that rewilding, or restoring upland peat bogs.  This is the most exciting bit for me: I can’t wait to see the imaginative projects the people of North of Tyne develop. 

They key thing here is that most projects never get off the drawing board.  It’s easy to imagine more sustainable ways to do things.  But where does the money come from?  We’ve done the work and crunched the numbers to figure out where we can get most bang for our buck.  Our Green New Deal Fund will predominantly be loans and grants that projects will repay from their successes. 

The money we have is public money.  We need to account for every penny.  This means robust approval and reporting processes.  I take this very seriously, it’s what accountability means.  If we did every project as a standalone, bespoke piece of work, my staff would be buried under a mountain of paper (or the electronic equivalent – a mountain of bytes).  This is where funds come in. 

By working with project owners – public, private or community – we’ll help them identify where they can generate revenue.  It might be from energy savings.  Or selling electricity.  Or developing new products.  Or subsidies for restoring nature. 

The barrier for most projects is that capital is expensive.  If you need to borrow from a bank, at a commercial rate, your sums probably won’t add up.  Global corporations have mountains of cheap cash, but only deploy it when they can extract a return for their shareholders.  Small, local projects just can’t compete.  Our fund levels the playing field.  It makes it possible for community energy and rewilding to happen.  Without having to pay for the profits of financers – often based in tax havens –  they only need to repay their costs.  By making the money available as patient capital, or favourable loans, we can channel money to do public good. 

For every £4,525 invested, a project must save at least one tonne of carbon dioxide per year.  And for energy efficiency projects it must reduce energy costs by at least 10%.   But it also supports skilling people up for green jobs, encourages innovation and creates a region we are proud of.

Of course, the cost of not dealing with the climate emergency is even greater.  Central Government needs to step up, and invest properly in sustainable housing, in retrofitting buildings, and in clean public transport. 

But our Green New Deal will grow.  Every project we fund will repay the money in time, so we can spend it again and again.  And once we’ve established a pipeline of projects, we can lever in more money and fund more projects, in a virtuous circle.  Every job, and every tonne of carbon counts.  It’s by paying attention to the small business and community ecosystem that enables us to achieve so much extra. 

The North of Tyne Green New Deal Fund will create jobs, reduce emissions, and save money – it’s the kind of innovation that’s needed for local areas to become net-zero. Creating jobs need not cost the Earth. 

  • Originally published in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 13 Dec 2021