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Agenda item

Notice of Motion: Support for Local Electricity Bill

To consider the recommendation of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee in respect of the Motion.

Subject To Call In::No - Decision delegated to the Executive Committee by the Council.

Decision:

That, while we are appreciative that the motion recognises this Council’s climate change work, and we also recognise the important role locally produced electricity can provide if properly integrated, we do find the motion, at this current time, lacking in information on how it could work and it raises serious concerns over the infrastructure to deliver it, security of power supply delivery, cost and the potential financial and reputational damage implications for this Council. Consequently the motion is rejected.

Minutes:

70.1          The report of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, circulated at Pages No. 42-58, provided a recommendation from that Committee to the Executive Committee as required by the Council at its meeting on 29 September 2020. The Executive Committee was asked to consider the Motion, and the recommendation of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, and determine the response to the Motion.

70.2          The proposer of the original Motion was invited to introduce it. She advised that the Motion had asked the Council to sign up to the campaign to support the Local Electricity Bill and she had found the recommendation from the Overview and Scrutiny Committee highly disappointing, expressing the view that some Members seemed unable, or unwilling, to grasp the meaning of the Motion. She indicated that the report to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee had been factually incorrect in its suggestion that, by supporting the Bill, the Council would be committing itself to anything. In fact, other local authority failures highlighted the exact problems that the Bill aimed to fix as it would mean any Councils that wished to set up their own energy companies would face moderate rather than the extreme risk, that had led to Nottingham and others losing so much money. However, there would be absolutely no cost to Tewkesbury Borough Council if it was to show its support for the Local Electricity Bill and the Bill did not advocate any local authority to do anything. Rather, the Bill required the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (OFGEM) to publish a right to local supply and, as part of that, to ensure that costs faced by local energy generators wishing to sell directly to local customers were proportionate, which they were not at the moment due to energy market regulations. She welcomed the solar panels that were on the Council Offices building to generate electricity but advised that, if passed, the Bill would allow the residents of the Borough to benefit as well; although, it was important to emphasise that the Bill did not advocate becoming a local energy supplier. She reminded the Committee that when a Bill was first presented it did not necessarily contain the final wording, for example, the Climate Change Act started as a draft of five pages but three years later when it became law it was 125 pages; the core principle however had remained the same. The organisations which already supported the Bill were doing so in principle and not necessarily in its exact wording, as the Power for the People’s website made clear, the wording of the Bill may change as the campaign progressed. Nevertheless, the Bill was now supported by 234 MPs including Tewkesbury Borough Council’s own MP, as well as 65 County and local authorities, Tewkesbury Town Council and the regional distributor, Western Power Distribution. The Tewkesbury Constituency MP had recently sent a statement to the proposer of the Motion which indicated that he welcomed and fully supported the campaign and stated that ‘as the UK emerges from the lockdown there is a need to rebuild local communities and local economies for the benefit of local people and local businesses and, in doing so, to meet head-on the challenge of climate change. The Bill would establish a right to the local supply of electricity, which would for the first time become financially viable. However, it would not only help to combat climate change, but also create local jobs and add significant value to local economies. There would also be a knock-on benefit of greater public support for the transition to sustainable energy – improved air quality, a sustainable energy supply that is not dependent on imports and being able to sell to local customers would reduce the need for renewable subsidies. He is a keen supporter of any measure to advance sustainability in the UK and will continue to support the Bill in Parliament’. In summing up, the proposer of the Motion advised that the whole reason for campaigning for the Bill was to make the risks and burdens involved in supplying local clean energy directly to local customers proportionate. Regarding the Bill, passing a Motion supporting it in no way committed the Council to doing anything or spending any money and she felt Councillors should be keen on it in general as it was about creating a new market for local clean energy providers and required no government subsidies – it simply created a level playing field. She felt that if Members did not like the Motion in its current form they could simply pass one that said ‘we support the Local Electricity Bill because it will help local, clean energy generators to sell their energy directly to local customers’.

70.3          The Executive Committee Chair invited the Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to advise on his Committee’s recommendation. In doing so, he explained that on 29 September 2020, the Council had decided to refer the Motion on support for the Local Electricity Bill to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee for consideration and recommendation to the Executive Committee for a final decision to be made. In considering the Motion at its meeting on 24 November, the Overview and Scrutiny Committee had received a verbal presentation from the proposer of the Motion, a written report from the Deputy Chief Executive and information from the Council’s consultant on climate change matters. A very full and detailed discussion had taken place and, whilst Members were appreciative that the Motion recognised the Council’s work to date on climate change, there was concern amongst the majority of Members that insufficient information was available for the Council to support the Bill. The important role that locally produced electricity could provide if properly integrated was recognised but Members had serious concerns on a number of points including infrastructure, security, cost and the potential financial and reputational damage implications for the Council; particularly if it joined a protest group. For that reason it was the recommendation of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee that the Motion be rejected.

70.4          The recommendation from the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to reject the Motion was proposed. The Member felt that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee had received a lot of information following in depth research by the Deputy Chief Executive and the climate change consultant which was the intention of the Council’s decision to refer the Motion to that Committee so he was happy to propose its subsequent recommendation.

70.5          During the discussion which ensued, there was concern by some Members that the MP covering the Borough had felt able to support the Bill when many Borough Councillors could not appear to take the same view. In response to concerns, the Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee indicated that his understanding was the MP had supported the Bill in principle but that he would need to see the detailed information before he could support it into law. In response to a query regarding how support for the Bill would result in costs to the Council, the Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee indicated that a lot of Officer time had already been spent on the matter and it was felt the Council did not have the resources available to continue to research the implications of the Bill at this stage. In response to the view of the local MP, a Member felt it was important to note that Tewkesbury Borough Councillors had a responsibility to do what they felt was best for the Council notwithstanding what the views of other local figures might be. He was of the view that, ultimately, the issue firmly sat with Parliament. With that in mind, whether or not the Council ‘signed up’ to support the Bill would make no difference at this stage. He was concerned about the local authorities that had ended up in huge debt following the collapse of their local energy companies and also that a report from Grant Thornton had advised that this was not how local authorities should look after large amounts of public money.

70.6          A Member proposed that the initial Motion put forward to Council be supported. She felt the Local Electricity Bill was a great idea and offering its support was something the Council could do to represent the people of the Borough. She was of the view that offering support to it would not cost much in Officer time but could be a great way to help avoid an energy crisis as well as showing the residents of the Borough that Councillors from across the Council could work together. The Chair thanked the proposer and indicated that, in line with advice from the Borough Solicitor he would take the proposal to agree the recommendation from the Overview and Scrutiny Committee first as it was the first proposal made. If that fell he would take the second proposal that the Local Electricity Bill be supported in line with the original Motion to Council.

70.7          A Member offered his support to the original Motion to Council. He felt the country would require more and more electricity and that would have to be generated from somewhere; the Local Electricity Bill would provide opportunities to generate local electricity for local needs and this should be supported with the aim of not stifling entrepreneurial skills. He felt the reasons for supporting or not supporting the Bill into law would be debated in Parliament but, in the meantime, there would be no reason for the Council not to offer its support at this stage. In offering an alternative view, a Member indicated that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee had considered the Motion, as requested by the Council, and in doing so had made a recommendation to the Executive Committee. Members were not saying they were against the Bill but merely that more information was required before the Council could sign-up to it. She felt that, as the Overview and Scrutiny Committee had undertaken the work to scrutinise the issue, the Executive Committee should follow its recommendation. The Chair of the Executive Committee agreed with that view and suggested that the Bill would be decided in Parliament which was the appropriate forum for it. The report that Officers had produced for the Overview and Scrutiny Committee had raised a number of significant concerns about Tewkesbury Borough Council’s involvement and the view of the Council’s climate change consultant was also provided in the Minutes of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee as attached to the report. He indicated that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee had scrutinised the issues in some detail and whilst having no great opposition to the Bill did have concerns about the Council’s support of it at this stage.

70.8          It was proposed and seconded that the recommendation of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee be accepted. Accordingly, it was 

70.9          Councillors Harwood, Stanley and Sztymiak asked that their votes against the decision be recorded.

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