Breaking: Liz Truss campaign’s biggest donation came from wife of former BP executive

The donation may raise eyebrows given Ms Truss’s refusal to further tax oil and gas firms to help people with the soaring bills, fuelled by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Today’s Steve Bell cartoon

The single biggest donation to Liz Truss’s successful campaign for the Tory leadership came from the wife of a former BP executive.

Matt Mathers

Fitriani Hay, the wife of James Hay, donated £100,000 to Ms Truss. It came as the new prime minister set out her plan to help families struggling with their energy bills.

Ms Truss said she would freeze bills at £2,500, which will be paid for by additional government borrowing. She declined to extend the windfall tax on the large profits of oil and gas giants.

James Hay joined BP as an engineer in the 1970s and spent nearly three decades working for the multinational firm, where he later became a senior executive.

He is now the chairman of Dubai-based JMH Group, a private family business operating in the luxury goods markets.

Mr Hay married his wife Fitriani in 1996 and they have two daughters. According to The Sunday Times Rich List he is worth £325 million.

The donation may raise eyebrows given Ms Truss’s refusal to further tax oil and gas firms to help people with the soaring bills, fuelled by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Rishi Sunak, who Ms Truss defeated in the race to replace Boris Johnson, introduced the initial levy and said he was open to extending it if he became prime minister.

Opposition parties also called for an additional windfall tax, a policy which is widely popular among voters and has been introduced in several countries across Europe.

Ms Truss has said that extending the levy would deter investment – something Mr Sunak said before later going ahead with the policy.

In the House of Commons on Thursday, Ms Truss confirmed energy bills for the average household will be frozen at no more than £2,500.

She also confirmed that businesses will be spared crippling increases.

Her two-year plan, paid for by tens of billions of pounds of borrowing will save the typical household around £1,000 from October and protect billpayers from further expected rises over the coming months.

For businesses and other non-domestic users such as schools and hospitals, which have not been covered by the existing price cap, a six-month scheme will offer equivalent support.

Ms Truss told MPs: “This is the moment to be bold. We are facing a global energy crisis and there are no cost-free options.”

Downing Street has refused to put a cost on the programme, previously estimated to cost up to £150 billion. The PM’s official spokesman would only say the price will be “tens of billions”.

This isn’t a Conservative government, more a protection racket

 Already, there are lots of hostile quotes flying around from MPs who have been overlooked for government jobs. “She won with a third of MPs and she intends to govern with a third of MPs. Let’s see how that turns out,” one former Cabinet minister tells the FT’s Seb Payne. On his LBC show, Andrew Marr quoted an MP who said: “This isn’t a Conservative government, frankly it feels more like a protection racket.” 

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Nine reasons Jacob Rees-Mogg is totally unsuitable for his new job

Nanny has a lot to answer for – Owl

A new prime minister begets a new cabinet, and everyone’s least favourite toff Jacob Rees-Mogg has been appointed to the role of secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy by Liz Truss.

Kate Plummer

He was previously the minister for Brexit opportunities, which appeared to be a cosmetic role in which he trotted around broadcast studios to defend the indefensible and gaslight the country about queues in Dover and other issues.

So now he’s got a Proper Job and is charged with overseeing the country’s energy and climate strategy, and leading the government’s relationship with business, a role previously undertaken by Kwasi Kwarteng who has now been promoted to chancellor.

He will make decisions about onshore wind and potentially fracking, alongside meeting ambitious targets for offshore wind, solar, nuclear and oil and gas.

It’s not up to us – we didn’t even get to vote for the new PM – but had we the opportunity to fill the new cabinet, we would have thought twice, or even thrice, before giving Rees-Mogg the keys to BEIS.

Why? Let us count the ways…

1. “Climate alarmism”.

Rees-Mogg has claimed that “climate alarmism” is responsible for high energy prices and that it is unrealistic for scientists to project future changes to the climate because meteorologists struggle to correctly predict the weather.

[Actual quote: “common sense dictates that if the Meteorological Office cannot forecast the next season’s weather with any success it is ambitious to predict what will happen decades ahead;” demonstrates a lack of any grasp of how statistical analysis can be used to discern trends. Sadly, his Eton and Oxford education seems to have left him literate but not numerate. – Owl]

2. Fossil fuels

In April 2022, he said he wanted “every last drop” of oil and gas to be extracted from the North Sea as he dismissed warnings that a renewed push for fossil fuels would ruin the UK’s chances of achieving net zero by 2050.

3. Fracking

He has also described the idea of reopening shale gas sites as “quite an interesting opportunity”, comparing the fracking threat to “a rock fall in a disused coalmine”.

4. Somerset Capital

In 2014, he was referred to the parliamentary standards watchdog for failing to disclose interests in a company with millions of pounds invested in fossil fuel, mining, and tobacco firms when speaking in relevant debates, the Independent reported.

5. “Green doomsayers”

In an article in The Telegraph, written in 2013, Rees-Mogg dismissed fears about rising emissions and said it was wrong to make policy based on these fears, even going as far as to compare climate change scientists with those who wrongly predict the weather.

He wrote: “Clearly expectations of a final disaster are part of man’s psychology and the doomsayers of the quasi religious green movement fit the bill. Perhaps one day the world will end, giving the last group to predict it the satisfaction of being right – but as many have been wrong so far it does not seem wise to make public policy on the back of these fears.

“It is widely accepted that carbon dioxide emissions have risen but the effect on the climate remains much debated while the computer modelling that has been done to date has not proved especially accurate … common sense dictates that if the Meteorological Office cannot forecast the next season’s weather with any success it is ambitious to predict what will happen decades ahead.”

6. “Mankind is adaptable”

In 2014 to Chat Politics, Rees-Mogg suggested people were adaptable and that we need to be “realistic” about how much we can change.

He said: “I would like my constituents to have cheap energy rather more than I would like them to have windmills.

“I think we have to be realistic about what we can change, the timescale over which we can change it, and actually I think mankind is highly adaptable, and we need to look at more adaptability rather than changes in behaviour.”

7. “Net zero is going to be a huge regulatory cost”

This year at the Centre for Policy Studies, Rees-Mogg moaned about the price of protecting the climate. He said: “Net zero is going to be a huge regulatory cost and that is an issue for the country to face and to face up to … If we were to have a ‘one in, one out’ or ‘one in, two out’ rule [where a piece of regulation is scrapped for every new one instituted], you would end up excluding net zero, as we previously excluded EU regulation, and then you’re tinkering at the edges because you’re ignoring the biggest piece of regulation.”

8. Voting record

Rees-Mogg has voted against some measures to help the climate. He voted against requiring the setting of a target range for the amount of carbon dioxide (or other greenhouse gases) produced per unit of electricity generated, against setting a decarbonisation target for the UK within six months of June 2016, and not to reduce the permitted carbon dioxide emission rate of new homes.

9. What other people think

Many remain concerned about Rees-Mogg’s green credentials. Sir Ed Davey, Leader of the Liberal Democrats told the FT: “For years Jacob Rees-Mogg has been on the wrong side of the argument. The last thing we need is another climate dinosaur like Rees-Mogg.”

“No government that’s remotely serious about tackling the twin climate and nature emergencies would even contemplate putting Jacob Rees-Mogg in charge of that portfolio,” said Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion. “He’s the worst possible candidate at the worst possible moment.”

Ed Miliband, shadow secretary of state for climate change and net zero for Labour, said: “We need an energy secretary for the 2020s not the 1820s. But everything that Jacob Rees-Mogg has said on energy is stuck in the past.”

“If ministers had acted on Rees-Mogg’s views then Britain would be even more exposed to skyrocketing energy bills this winter, more dependent on expensive fossil fuels and even less prepared to tackle the climate crisis.”

“This will either be a massive own goal for Truss’s efforts to tackle the cost of living crisis or Rees-Mogg will have to do the steepest learning curve in history as he gets to grips with the issues facing our country,” said Rebecca Newsom, head of politics for Greenpeace UK.

North Devon Holiday Lets deemed “major problem”

New document reveals impact

The rise in short-term holiday lets in North Devon is a “major problem,” with over a quarter of properties in some parts of the district not being used for permanent residence, according to a council report.

local democracy reporter, Ollie Heptinstall 

The finding is part of North Devon Council’s response to the government’s call for evidence on short-term holiday homes. It was set up following concern from local authorities and MPs that their increasing numbers are impacting the housing market.

Agreed at a meeting on Monday [5 September], the council’s submission says the rise over the past three years has led to at least 435 homes in the district being changed from permanent residential use to holiday lets, a figure likely to be higher as it is claimed many properties are not registered for business rates.

The council acknowledges that holiday letting websites have “enabled some homeowners to create a new income stream” while expanding the tourism market.

But it says there is a “misconception that this is a quaint cottage industry where homeowners let out a room or two to supplement their income.”  it is “particularly concerned about community cohesion” in areas with a high density of holiday lets.

In addition, it claims “anecdotal evidence” shows tenants have been evicted from permanent lets so the properties to be used as holiday lets, as well as 142 no fault evictions in the last two financial years – of which 103 were last year.

The council says data from property websites shows the number of properties available for permanent letting in North Devon shrank two-thirds (67 per cent) in the two years to August 2021.

According to the council, second homes and holiday lets now make up more than a quarter of all homes in Instow, West Down, Countisbury, Trentishoe and Martinhoe, while in Mortenhoe (47 per cent) and Georgeham (45 per cent) the proportion is almost half.

The impact is so great in Georgeham that on one particular road in the village it is believed only one property is occupied in the winter.

“Communities cannot be sustained with that level of holiday use,” the council says.

It adds the reduction in permanent housing has had an impact on house prices. In August 2019 the average was £246,147 which increased to £321,346 in July 2022.

This covered the covid period, when house prices in many rural and coastal areas rose considerably.

The lack of available housing is having a further impact on major employers and public services who now find it difficult to recruit. According to the council: “Whilst the recruitment market is more difficult at present, especially for certain professions, many employers are citing the lack of housing as a reason.”

“By way of example, the principal of the local [further education] college had appointed a deputy principal who then came to North Devon to look for a property to relocate to but found the market so restricted and expensive that they then withdrew from the offer. There have been five unsuccessful attempts at recruitment since.

“The same college has an executive officer who has had to take a flat in Cullompton when they work in Barnstaple because there was nothing suitable and affordable closer. That is a distance of 40 miles.”

The report adds: “An employee of a local care home who was living in a rented property has had to give up her job as care worker as her landlord has evicted her to allow the use as a holiday let.”

North Devon says it wants to develop a licencing scheme with physical checks of premises, citing other impacts from some holiday lets including anti-social behaviour.

But it says that should be supported by other measures, “such as the requirement to apply for planning consent for change of use where residential premises are converted to holiday lets.

“This would allow control over the number of holiday lets and allow councils to prevent areas becoming saturated.

“Other measures that might be outside the scope of this call for evidence include addressing the tax advantages for owners of holiday let premises and also introducing the same environmental requirements as are imposed on private landlords.”

Members of the council’s strategy and resources committee agreed to submit the response to the government.

The call for evidence ends on Wednesday 21 September.

Autumn Windfalls: Barratt scores £1 billion profit as house prices set new records

Barratt Developments has reported annual profit of over £1 billion for the first time in results published on the day average house prices reached fresh records in London and the UK.

Michael Hunter 

The landmark profits came at a time when the industry is bracing for the impact of sustained increases in interest rates and the higher mortgage costs that come with them, as the Bank of England seeks to tame runaway inflation. But there is little sign of a slowdown, even with  the cost-of-living crisis biting and official forecasts pointing to inflation of over 13% before the end of the year.

Closely-watched average house price data from one of the UK’s biggest mortgage lenders, also out today, showed a rise to fresh records in London and the wider UK in August, indicating that a fall in July may have just been a blip.

According to the Halifax, annual house price inflation in the capital was the highest in six years, at 8.8%. A typical London property now costs a record £554, 718, up by almost £45,000 over the last 12 months. The average national price was up 0.4% month-on-month to £294,260, also a record and an annual rise of almost 12%.

Barratt’s chief executive, David Thomas, told the Standard that current trading was “more challenging” into the market’s key trading period from late summer into December. While levels of customer interest and inquiry levels remain high, “uncertainty in terms of the economic and political environment” means “there’s some concern about making a commitment as big as a house purchase.”

Barratt sold nearly 18,000 and returned its business to pre-pandemic levels. Its average selling price for the year on private homes was just over £340,000, up almost 5%. For affordable homes, the average price was just over £159,000, up almost 9% due to more sales in outer London.

“We are trading very much in line or slightly ahead of the market,” Thomas added. “It’s about seeing how we trade through the key periods of September, October, November.”

There were also signs that rising costs in the industry was easing off, with Barratt leaving its guidance for inflation at between 9% and 10%. Thomas noted “very, very significant reductions in timber prices over the last three months,” while overall costs were holding steady, staying in a “similar position” for six to eight weeks.

Barratt reported annual adjusted profit of just over £1 billion was up by nearly 15%.  The FTSE 100 company plans to return £200 million to investors via a share buyback. Its stock slipped 1.3% to 416p on Wednesday.

It also reported a charge of over £408 million relating to the cost of cladding repairs to buildings over 11 metres high, after safety measures brought in by the government after the Grenfell Tower disaster which the industry has agreed to fund.

New environment minister Ranil Jayawardena ‘consistently’ voted against climate measures

The replacement for “Useless”  doesn’t inspire confidence. 

It now seems highly likely that the Truss government will wreak havoc on the environment, especially with the appointment of Jacob Rees-Mogg to Energy Secretary. – Owl

Harry Cockburn 

His appointment by Liz Truss has already caused alarm due to Mr Jayawardena’s voting record, which shows he has “consistently voted against measures to prevent climate change“, and also against government support for renewable energy projects, according to the website, They Work For You.

Despite this stance he has previously said he recognises the importance of the UK taking climate action, and has campaigned for improved recycling and supported government moves to ban plastic straws in 2020.

An MP since 2015 and formerly a junior minister at the trade department, Mr Jayawardena replaces George Eustice, who was appointed to the role by Boris Johnson in February 2020.

Mr Jayawardena’s voting record suggests he favours a light touch when it comes to environment regulations that could impact business.

The records on They Work For You show Mr Jayawardena voted “not to require a ‘climate and nature emergency impact statement’ as part of any proposal for financial assistance under a United Kingdom Internal Market Act”, in September 2020.

He also voted “not to require ministers to have due regard to the target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 when taking actions including setting up agricultural subsidy schemes”, in October 2020.

As incoming environment secretary, Mr Jayawardena will be responsible for ensuring the UK’s food security and supporting UK farming, while also being the government’s lead figure on protecting the environment, inheriting issues such as sewage-filled water courses and seas, the agricultural impact of the current drought, the spread of bird-flu around the British coast, rewilding programmes, and grappling with the longer-term effects of the worsening climate crisis.

His voting record shows he was among the Conservative MPs who voted last year against Defra’s own environmental principles, designed, the department said, “to guide ministers and policymakers towards opportunities to prevent environmental damage and enhance the environment, where relevant and appropriate”.

These principles, put forward by the government, include the “polluter pays principle”, which means that, “where possible, the costs of pollution should be borne by those causing it, rather than the person who suffers the effects of the resulting environmental damage, or the wider community”.

The Conservatives voted against the adoption of the principles which would have required public authorities to take a greater level of environmental action.

Mr Jayawarda also voted along with his Conservative colleagues against laws to slash transport emissions by 2030, and also against a proposal to bring forward “a green industrial revolution to decarbonise the economy and boost economic growth”. Both proposals were defeated in the Commons.

Nonetheless in a blog-post on his website earlier this year, he wrote that “protecting the future environment and standard of living for our local area and beyond is one of great importance”

He said: “This is supported by the volume of correspondence to me from local people. Economic growth and respect for our planet are by no means two opposites.”

Following his appointment, Mr Jayawardena said: “It is a privilege to be appointed the Secretary of State for Defra.

“From food security and backing British farmers, to water security and growing our rural economy, I know that there is much to do.

“It is so important to recognise where our food comes from.”

In a linked Tweet, Mr Jayawardena added: “This year in North East Hampshire alone, we will consume: 11 million eggs, 550 tons of beef, 17 million pints of milk.

“I recently met local farmers with the NFU, to discuss the government’s support for British farming and the export growth ahead.”

The animal products Mr Jayawardena mentions are among the most environmentally damaging products produced on the planet, with 80 per cent of all farmland being used for livestock grazing or for growing feed for livestock.

Clearing land to support livestock has not only devastated natural ecosystems across Europe, home to some of the world’s most “nature depleted” states, such as the UK, but is also continuing to drive deforestation in vital environments such as the Amazon rainforest, where soya is grown and used to feed livestock around the world, according to the WWF.

Campaigners have called on Mr Jayawardena to now strengthen rules to protect the environment and address the sewage scandal.

Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, said: “A summer of outcry at our sewage-strewn beaches should give the new secretary of state pause for thought when considering his priorities. The public wants to see our natural world enhanced, not degraded further through cuts to vital protections.

“This new government should seek to strengthen rules meant to stop sewage polluting our rivers and coast, keep plastic from our seas and prevent destructive fishing in our marine protected areas. These aren’t just red tape to be slashed. And far from being a boon, the new secretary of state may find the main thing unleashed by cutting these protections is a wave of public anger as our natural world is further spoiled.”

Gas drive will not solve energy crisis, climate advisers tell Liz Truss

The government’s independent climate and infrastructure advisers have delivered an unprecedented rebuke to Liz Truss for focusing on attempts to increase the UK’s gas production to bring down energy prices instead of policies to reduce demand.

Fiona Harvey 

From her first hours in the job, the prime minister has prioritised a series of measures on energy policy to head off the cost of living crisis.

She will unveil a cap on energy price rises – though without extending the windfall tax on producers – freezing the average household energy bill at £2,500 a year.

She has also signalled a push to extract more gas and oil from the North Sea, accelerate the new licensing of North Sea oil and gas fields, and lift the moratorium on fracking, to try to increase gas production.

On Wednesday, the former Conservative environment secretary Lord Deben and Sir John Armitt, who chair the Committee on Climate Change and the National Infrastructure Commission respectively, wrote to Truss warning that ramping up gas production would not solve the problem.

They wrote: “The UK cannot address this crisis solely by increasing its production of natural gas. Greater domestic production of fossil fuels may improve energy security, particularly this winter.

“But our gas reserves – offshore or from shale – are too small to impact meaningfully the prices faced by UK consumers.”

The letter marks the first time the chairs of the independent advisory bodies have written jointly to a prime minister.

They advised Truss, along with the incoming chancellor and business secretary, to focus instead on bringing down energy demand from consumers and businesses.

“Energy security and reducing the UK’s exposure to volatile fossil fuel prices requires strong policies that reduce energy waste across the economy and boost domestic production of cheap and secure low-carbon energy,” they wrote in the letter, seen by the Guardian.

This would necessitate policies such as home insulation, requiring public agencies to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings, setting up an energy advice service for consumers, and increasing renewable energy generation, particularly onshore wind and solar power.

“Renewables are the cheapest form of electricity generation. Onshore wind and solar have the potential to be deployed fastest and thus reduce our reliance on natural gas sooner,” they wrote.

Truss has said little so far on how she would improve home insulation, as the scrapping of the green homes grant last year has left the UK without a nationwide insulation scheme for those on average incomes. She has vowed to remove green levies, potentially including those that pay for insulation for poor and vulnerable households.

During her campaign for the Tory leadership, she also firmly rejected lifting the barriers in the planning system to onshore wind and solar farms.

At least 15 million homes require energy efficiency improvements, but the most recent year in which a large number of homes were insulated was 2012. Since then, the “stop-start nature of energy-efficiency policy is hampering development of the supply chain,” the letter said.

The Committee on Climate Change warned earlier this year that increasing the production of gas from the North Sea was unlikely to bring down gas prices and could endanger the UK’s target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

Deben and Armitt wrote that up to three-quarters of UK households are threatened by fuel poverty.

“The OBR expects natural gas to remain expensive, at three to four times the average pre-invasion [of Ukraine] price, until 2027. Ninety per cent of the recent increase in the energy price cap is driven by changes in the price of gas. Addressing our dependency on fossil energy offers us the best way out of these crises,” they wrote.

“The best policies for the consumer are those that support lasting energy security and a low-carbon, low-cost energy system. The independent analysis of our respective organisations is that this will deliver a long-term return on investment and set the UK on a path to prosperity.”

Thérèse Coffey considers paying care homes in England to free hospital beds

“HOWEVER, whether the scheme becomes a reality depends on the Treasury agreeing to cover the costs, which DHSC sources put at “several hundred million pounds”. Neither the DHSC nor NHS England have enough money in reserve to do so, it is understood.”

Denis Campbell 

Thérèse Coffey is considering handing hundreds of millions of pounds to care homes to help free up hospital beds as part of her emergency plan to tackle the growing crisis in the NHS.

The new health secretary is examining proposals to pay care homes in England to look after patients who are medically fit to leave hospital but cannot be discharged because of a lack of social care.

Officials at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) believe the scheme could tackle two major NHS problems at once, by freeing up some of the 13,000 hospital beds currently occupied by “delayed discharge” patients and improving handovers by ambulance crews to A&E staff.

If approved, the plan would become a key element of the strategy that ministers are expected to set out next week to address the multiple problems affecting the NHS, including long delays for A&E, GP and cancer care and hospital beds. In her inaugural speech as prime minister outside 10 Downing Street on Tuesday, Liz Truss identified the NHS as one of her “three early priorities”.

“I will make sure that people can get doctors’ appointments and the NHS services they need. We will put our health service on a firm footing,” Truss pledged, though she gave no details.

However, whether the scheme becomes a reality depends on the Treasury agreeing to cover the costs, which DHSC sources put at “several hundred million pounds”. Neither the DHSC nor NHS England have enough money in reserve to do so, it is understood.

It would in effect see the government starting to once again pay for the NHS to operate a “discharge to assess” scheme, funding for which was ended in March despite NHS organisations warning that it would make it harder for hospitals to free up beds. The DHSC began examining the pros and cons involved in reviving that initiative under Coffey’s predecessor, Steve Barclay.

Coffey and NHS leaders are keen to do everything they can to reduce the pressure on the NHS, especially acute hospitals, before what they fear could be a winter in which the service falls over.

She is also studying plans for the NHS 111 telephone advice service to increase the proportion of patients with minor ailments it refers to a pharmacist, to reduce the strain on GP surgeries. NHS England would foot the estimated £100m bill for that initiative, which would see an expansion of the community pharmacy consultation service set up in 2019.

Coffey, who Truss has also made deputy prime minister, is expected to set out plans to stop senior doctors being hit with huge pension tax bills, which have prompted some doctors to reduce their working hours or retire early. Truss has pledged to solve the problem so that doctors can work longer hours to help tackle the 6.7 million-strong NHS care backlog.

“NHS leaders were disappointed when the previous discharge to assess funding ended, despite their pleas,” said Rory Deighton, the acute lead at the NHS Confederation. “During the first wave of coronavirus it freed up 30,000 hospital beds, led to a 28% drop in patients staying in hospital for more than three weeks, freed up more than 6,000 staff, and led to £451m of efficiency savings.”

If the approach was revived then funding would have to be long-term rather than a one-off, he said, “in order to help the NHS run smoothly and allow patients to recover in the most suitable places for them”.