This week has brought a chill in the air and frosty morning, so it is timely that the Energy Security and Net Zero Select Committee has started its work on a new inquiry about “Heating Our Homes”. The inquiry will look at the ways UK Citizens can heat their homes, both now and in the future as well has issues surrounding energy bills and supply.
There are only 11 MPs on the select committee drawn from different parties. We are doing wide range of different inquiries so being a member of the committee takes a considerable amount of my time. However, it’s also a great opportunity as we get look at issues in detail, take evidence from experts and then make detailed recommendations to Government, business, and other stakeholders.
Energy efficiency of homes remains a big issue. In order to reduce dependency on costly oil and gas it is important that homes are well insulated and that it becomes more commonplace to use alternative heat sources, such as heat pumps, district heating and hydrogen. Using smart meters can help households to schedule energy use to the times of day when demand and costs are lowest.
Thanks to a number of different Government initiatives over recent years, such as help with insulation, the majority of socially rented homes now have relatively high energy performance. Standards for new homes have increased, but there is more to do on retrofitting older homes with insulation and UK falls far below many other countries for use of heat pumps.
I recently met with Chelmsford’s largest social housing provider, CHP to discuss projects they are considering improving home energy efficiency locally. Chelmsford College is also increasing its courses and apprenticeships to increase the number of skilled tradespeople.
I travelled with other members of the Select Committee to visit a project in Scotland which will deliver the world’s first Green Hydrogen Neighbourhood. In a community of around 1,000 homes, nearly 50% of households have signed up to become customers. Electricity from a nearby wind turbine will be used to convert water into hydrogen gas which will then be used to fuel their hot water and central heating. The boilers look almost identical to a typical home boiler today. Lessons from this trial project will help inform other communities of options that might be considered in the future.
In London, I joined delegates from all across the world for a major Global Food Security Conference. The combination of climate change and conflict having been driving more and more people into food insecurity. This is driving increased disease, malnutrition, and migration. Despite this, the conference brought hope. Advances in agricultural innovation and technology are helping to deliver better, more resilient corps and farming practices in many parts of the world. The UK has been helping to drive action to unlock increased funding for adaption via multilateral development banks and the private sector which means that investments can be multiplied and have greater reach.
The UK launched a new White Paper on International Development at the conference. I was particularly pleased to see the focus on women and girls, as often it is women that are most negatively affected by climate change, economic crisis, and conflict. In too many countries, women’s rights to education, employment, and basic health services like access to contraception are being rowed back. If we want a more peaceful, more stable, planet then it is important that the UK continues to champion these rights.
Keeping the international theme, I was very honoured to be one of the few MPs invited to hear the President of Korea give an address in Parliament. The UK has a long history of friendship with South Korea, including helping to defend the country’s freedom and democracy 70 years ago during the Korean war. With so many geopolitical threats from autocrats, it is vital to maintain our close friendships with countries that also treasure free speech and democracy.
This week brought the Autumn Statement on the budget. It was very good news that the UK economy has outperformed expectations, and that inflation is now less than half the level of a year ago. This meant that the chancellor was able to give some welcome commitments such as keeping the pension triple local, increasing benefits in line with inflation, reducing National Insurance and cutting taxes to help businesses grow and create jobs.
However, the costs incurred during the pandemic with furlough payments as well as the support given to households with energy bills last year have added to our national debt, so there is not a huge amount of headroom for further tax reductions at this stage. It remains important that government spending is kept under control in order to prevent further debt rises and to keep reducing inflation.
Talking of investment, I have written to households in North East Chelmsford to give them an update on the progress on the new Beaulieu Station which remains on track, as well other local infrastructure projects. I have also joined volunteers out and about in other parts of Chelmsford delivering a leaflet with the good news that the investment required for our new Army and Navy junction has moved a step closer now that the green light has been given to the Outline Business Case.
All across Chelmsford, I see holly bushes laden with berries, a sign that Christmas is on its way. I would like to thank all the children who entered by Christmas Card competition. It was a huge pleasure to join the acting Dean of the Cathedral to judge the entries.
Congratulations to Tahir of Westlands Primary School whose winning design will feature on the card and to the two runners up; Rosie of The Cathedral Primary School and Ada of Baddow Hall Infant. What talented young people we have in Chelmsford!