Jeremy Leggett on Civil Service culture

Jeremy Leggett, head of Solar Century, has just heard David Milliband, the UK Environment Minister, speak about climate change at the Hay-on-Wye Literature Festival. Promising signals from the Government seem to have come to little, what with the reinstatement of the nuclear option by the prime minister; Leggett has some interesting things to say about institutional predispositions in the Civil Service.

Renewables and efficiency have not been given a chance to show what they are capable of in the UK. I now believe that is primarily because of a particular culture that exists at senior levels in the civil service, especially the DTI. This culture holds that grown-ups get their energy from big central power plants, always have and always will. A few bolt-on adjustments to the status quo might be needed because of climate change, but not a whole new paradigm.The DTI energy mandarins simply do not have the belief, in the right places, that there are new, decentralised ways of powering our economies so long as we enable markets for them in the short term. In that, they are missing the things seen as obvious by their counterparts in Japan, Germany, California and other places.

I suspect the organisation of the various government departments may also be a detrimental influence. Their structuring probably isn’t equipped to handle these new technologies: where does the development of renewables fit? DEFRA, DTI, 10 Downing St, Treasury? It sounds like a classic systems issue of definining boundaries. As a result of a lack of vision and clarity, I doubt there is good coordination between them on this, given the apparent failure of the Government to practice what they said they would do early on when they came to power, namely, to think and act in more joined-up ways. (I also suspect that Blair’s principle driver in his nuclear-energy decision is to ensure a domestic supply of fissile material for submarines, so the MoD is probably also lurking in a corner of this particular bun fight.)

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