Editor's Letter - STIR Spring 2024

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written by

Jonny Gordon-Farleigh

Apr 25, 2024

Despite the negative mood about the economy, it’s still quite easy to underestimate the scale and intensification of private ownership. Even before the announcement of local government bankruptcies, IPPR reported that financial pressures on public authorities had led to the sale of £15bn of public assets since 2010 – with 96.7% of such assets going into private ownership.

With cities like Birmingham in the region of £760m of debt, groups like Save Birmingham are rushing to nominate buildings of community and heritage value that are at risk of another fire sale. Now 1⁄5 council leaders are expecting to declare bankruptcy in the next 15 months, and real-terms cuts of 40% of funding for local authorities between 2010 and 2020 are exposing even more public assets.

It’s a similar story if we turn to renewable energy. We know we need to accelerate the production of clean energy and that public, private, and community ownership will have a role in this transition. But it’s difficult not to feel insecure about the prospect of a fair climate transition when 90% of clean energy infrastructure is currently owned by pension funds and private companies.

In terms of public investment, Labour’s Local Power Plan and the proposed creation of GB energy represent a boost to renewables and community energy. According to the Co-op Party, there are plans for £1bn of investment every year and £400m will be earmarked for community energy. It will, apparently, create ‘1 million new local energy owners’.

The obvious question is whether the Local Power Plan will ‘democratise energy’ as a fully publicly owned company? The Green Party see the £8Bn investment pledge as a ‘drop in the ocean’, and need convincing that it won’t lead to private energy companies making more profits.

The community and ethical finance sector has no small task, but it has a better chance of being successful by working in partnership with a government committed to public investment and planning reforms.

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