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Scottish Parliament Speech: Scottish Parliamentary Pensions Bill: Stage 3: "First Annual Report of the Scottish Council of Economic Advisers: December 2008" (Scottish Government Response) (January 2009)

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

I will not dilate on how we got here - I have written enough about the UK's post-industrial economy and its descent into post-rationality. I will respond to recommendation 8 from the Council of Economic Advisers, which urges the Scottish Government to identify "the most cost-effective options for reducing energy demand. This should include exploring ways of delivering transformational levels of home insulation."

I am encouraged by the Scottish Government's enthusiasm for a new energy assistance package to ameliorate fuel poverty, improve energy efficiency and emphasise renewable heating systems and insulation measures as a central policy priority. I will expand on insulation measures and plead for cross-party agreement on their precedence.

Earlier this month, the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee was confronted during its energy inquiry by six middle-aged caucasian gents representing generation and transmission companies, who told us - unsurprisingly - that we require more generation and transmission capacity. I asked what would happen if someone from a Scottish national insulation corporation told us that his outfit could reduce demand by, say, 30 per cent, by a universal mass-production-oriented house insulation campaign - might that prevent expensive generation capacity from being built and save cash for other purposes?

Space heating accounts for 50 per cent of our carbon production, so achieving economies in that area will reduce the requirement for energy provision. A coordinating corporation could be established quickly to combat unemployment and advance training while more elaborate generating plants of whatever type were being planned and constructed.

Such an outfit has a Tory precedent in Walter Elliot's Scottish Special Areas Housing Association of 1936, which used new techniques to expand housing in depression-hit special areas, and later became the Scottish Special Housing Association. In the 1930s, housing boosted the economy and a semi cost no more than two times the standard middle-class income - imagine that - but we are now confronted with overpriced and not particularly well-built houses that struggle to reach a European Union energy rating of C.

Construction firms are in a slump, so why not have a compact state agency - it could be called Scottish Insulation - that is empowered to organise series production and supply of the necessary technology to meet demanding deadlines? That has a Liberal precedent in the munitions directorate for Scotland during the first world war, which churned out guns and shells only months after David Lloyd George founded it in May 1915. The proposed agency could offer and organise contracts with private firms and undertake enterprise on its own when necessary.

Crucially, Scottish Insulation would represent the passive housing industry - which conserves energy - to central Government and funding bodies. I notice a gap in such representation today. Plenty of spare labour, material and expertise are going a-begging. Perhaps some finance matadors who are out of a job might do community service and work their passage back into society. Following the precedent of the SSHA in the 1930s and the North of Scotland Hydro-electric Board a decade later, our insulators could - with logos on vans, staff and big propaganda hits - do what environmental and employment lobbies want and earn new-deal-type publicity for renewable Scotland's initiatives.

Such schemes have been standard practice for decades in Scandinavia, The Conservative Government in my former German home of Baden-Württemberg. That Government was Conservative, Mr McLetchie, and it adopted an SPD plan to install insulation that meant that, even with expensive German energy prices, I paid a third less for my fuel there than I paid in an equivalent flat in Scotland.

There is compelling logic in developing as soon as possible bilateral links with places such as Norway and – yes - Germany, where the economy has the equipment and the capacity to adapt and to train. We should remember that less than 10 per cent of our labour force now works in manufacturing industry and that housing standards in Europe are considerably higher than those in the UK.

Scottish Insulation's presence in the energy scene would at least make conventional power suppliers more responsive to the Scottish Government's energy agenda. If allowed to expand into the present developmental vacuum, it could do much to convert the dearth of housing activity into preparation and training for a wider renewables strategy.

Home > Politics > Scottish Parliament Speech: Scottish Parliamentary Pensions Bill: Stage 3: "First Annual Report of the Scottish Council of Economic Advisers: December 2008" (Scottish Government Response) (January 2009)