One of the undoubted successes for Edinburgh achieved by effective campaigning was the decision to establish the headquarters of the Green Investment Bank (GIB) in Edinburgh.
Like all successful initiatives, the GIB was claimed as an achievement across the political spectrum. Vince Cable announced it for the Coalition government, but David Cameron was also keen to claim as it a ‘green’ achievement for his government. In fact, the person who should take the initial credit was Alistair Darling, who announced the government’s intention to launch the GIB in 2009, confirmed in a 2010 budget.
It is true that the decision to locate it in Edinburgh was taken under the Coalition; but that decision followed a genuinely cross party and cross community campaign for that to happen. In the House of Commons, it was led jointly by myself along with the former LibDem MP for Edinburgh West, Mike Crockart. We had strong support from Alistair Darling as former Chancellor, but also from SNP MSPs, and (quietly) from some Tories who recognised Edinburgh’s strengths. The City Council gave a great deal of support to the campaign, as did Edinburgh’s business community, and environmental NGOs.
That’s why I have been surprised and not a little disappointed by the relatively lacklustre campaign there has been in response from Scotland to the way that the current government is planning to sell off the GIB. To be fair, the SNP government has strongly criticised the proposals, and the SNP finance spokesman has raised the issue in the Commons on more than one occasion. But if you look at Hansard, you will see that the most vociferous and persistent opposition has come from Labour front benchers like Clive Lewis and Kevin Brennan, along with the Green’s Caroline Lucas. And elsewhere, it has been former Coalition ministers like the Tory Greg Barker and LibDem Vice Cable who have been at the forefront of the campaign. I am particularly surprised at the low key opposition that we have seen from Edinburgh’s parliamentary representatives, given that myself and Mike Crockart made the case for the GIB to come to Edinburgh month after month. As far as I can tell from Hansard, very few MPs from Edinburgh have said anything in Parliament about the threat to the GIB. UPDATE – since I wrote this blog yesterday, an Urgent Question was asked in the House of Commons today (11 January) at the request of Caroline Lucas MP. I am pleased to see that as well as Labour and SNP front bench spokespersons, two Edinburgh MPs (Ian Murray and Joanna Cherry) intervened powerfully in that session as did a number of other Scottish MPs, including George Kerevan from East Lothian.
What needs to be emphasised is that it is not just the privatisation of the GIB that is the problem, but even more the type of privatisation that now appears to be under way. Ex-Tory Minister Lord Barker has talked of asset stripping. It certainly seems to me that the GIB is at real risk of turning from the pioneering investor in and partner of both environmental business and local government, into a simple investment bank with only a green veneer. One consequence of that is that the knowledge and support of green enterprise which the GIB has been able to display will disappear, and its role as an active intervener to support green business in Scotland will also be diminished. That will inevitably risk also the GIB’s ability to bring together green finance and green entrepreneurship, and reduce Edinburgh’s role as a leader in both those fields.
So I close with a plea to Scotland and Edinburgh’s representatives, particularly those at Westminster: please keep making the case against the UK government’s privatisation plans. And the City Council needs to speak up as well, and the Scottish Government keep up its critique of the government’s plans. All the signs are that there is a lot of Parliamentary scepticism, not just from the opposition parties, about the plans for the GIB. And now is the time to do it, before the government make a final decision on the sell off.
For a good summary of the current position with the GIB sell off, see here https://www.theguardian.com/business/nils-pratley-on-finance/2017/jan/09/green-investment-bank-sale-theresa-may-macquarie