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Nick Herbert: A Conservative Lean and Green Agenda

Councillors, Ladies and Gentlemen ...Welcome to the Conservative Party's 'Lean and Green' conference.

I am grateful to you all for making the effort to join us this morning, and I am delighted to see so over 50 Conservative councils from across England represented here today.

I would like to begin by thanking the LGA Conservative group for hosting this conference and for providing us with the venue.

We are all aware that as Party Leader, David Cameron, has made the environment and green issues central to modern conservatism

Our green agenda isn't an optional extra.

We are a green party and we will be a green Government.

We realise that the environment cannot be an afterthought.

It can't be a peripheral concern.

Conservatives have rightly rejected the notion that green politics are for the good times.

As politicians, we need to ensure that the green agenda is not obscured by the current financial downturn.

First, because we have a duty to ensure environmental security ...

... to mitigate the rises in temperature which could be so harmful to our future

... and to adapt to the challenges that climate change will bring. 

Whether it is rising sea levels and greater coastal erosion, or more flood events and extreme weather.

But also because, just as we are having to learn to live within our economic means, we also need to learn to live within our environmental means

To minimise waste ...

To conserve natural resources ...

To generate clean energy ...

Because perhaps more than anything else this agenda is about our quality of life.

We should stand ready to promote the good that will come from living a more sustainable lifestyle, where waste is reduced, resources are used more efficiently and nature is conserved.

In short, we need to set out a vision of the future we're trying to achieve ... 

One where people truly value the fruits of a cleaner, quieter more beautiful environment; where individuals and communities live within their environmental means.

<h2>'Blue-Green' Conservatism</h2>

But there are those who have tried to capture the green agenda to increase the size of the state and to strengthen the grip of central government.

They see going green as the chance to turn Britain red, with more regulation, more taxes and less choice for individuals.

Of course there's a place for environmental regulation - and many of the best measures have been Tory.

Cleaning our rivers ...

... improving air quality.

And it makes sense to tax bad things rather than good things ...

... Pollution rather than families.

That's why we made clear yesterday that we will increase the proportion of tax revenues accounted for by environmental taxes ...

... but that any additional revenues from new green taxes that are principally designed to change behaviour will be used to reduce the burden of taxation elsewhere.

But we can't allow the debate on our future to be dominated by talk of sanctions, restrictions and penalties.

The future that some portray is one where people have less control, individuals have less choice, and government is bigger.

There's a real danger that this will drive public support away - and there is some evidence that this is already leading to widespread disengagement.

That is the wrong approach and it is up to us - in local government and nationally if we win the general election - to show that there is a better way.

Conservatives believe that in a free society, people respond best to positive incentives rather than lecturing and regulation. 

There can be no doubt that arresting dangerous climate change will require significant changes to the way we live and do business. 

Of course, global targets, fiscal frameworks and the right political leadership are all necessary, but they are not sufficient. 

Without public buy-in the societal shift needed to de-carbonise our economies and improve our quality of life will not follow. 

In order to encourage real democratic engagement we must frame policy in a way that incentivises people to do the right things, and rewards them when they do. 

We need policy that appreciates the limits of regulation and the power of markets and incentives to change behaviour for the better.  

The changes we need to encourage must be habitual and realisable in people's everyday lives. 

As Conservatives, we realise the imperative of working with the grain of human nature.

We also recognise what can be achieved when we foster social responsibility, and give individuals and communities the option to do the right thing.

<h2>Today's conference </h2>

The first objective of today's conference is to give everyone a chance to hear about a range of Conservative policies that follow from these principles.

On waste policy, if elected we will want to encourage the uptake of schemes that provide incentives for households to recycle, instead of fining them for not recycling. 

Last September I visited the Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead to see the Recyclebank trial - where the public is being paid to recycle - at first hand. 

The results have been just as impressive as those achieved by the scheme in the United States. 

In less than six months, the volume of recycling collected at the kerbside in the pilot areas has risen by 30 per cent.

The average household can look forward to earning up to £130 in vouchers to spend in local retailers.

This is a positive environmental policy that saves council taxpayers money by avoiding expensive landfill charges, and helps householders go green.

We also want to drive forward schemes using new technology to extract energy from waste that can't be recycled.

We've committed to harnessing the potential of anaerobic digestion by enabling biogas created from food and farm waste to be fed into the gas grid. 

In other sessions today you will hear how we will give every household in Britain a Green Deal - the right to have home energy efficiency improvements of up to £6,500 in value that will save money on their bills - paid for by those savings, not the taxpayer.   

We will also discuss the role that the public sector has in reducing the environmental impact of the food it procures.

Local councils can make savings by sourcing more food locally, which is also better for the environment by reducing food miles.

In a £2 billion a year public sector food procurement budget, the potential for savings and the ability to promote good locally could be immense.

Zac Goldsmith - who is leading a taskforce for the Conservative Party on how to spread more sustainable food procurement throughout the public sector - will chair a session on the groups work and the policies already being pursued by Conservative councils.

<h2>Lean & Green</h2>

I've argued that we need to mobilise all the most positive arguments for going green.

But I also think it is vital to make the economic case.

Yesterday, George Osborne set out the eight benchmarks for economic growth that will guide the next Conservative Government - and one of these is the need to build a greener economy.

Conservatives recognise that green policies have a big role to play in getting our economy back on its feet. 

From creating tens of thousands of 'green collar' jobs in new industries, to using resources more efficiently - one study suggested that alone could save British business over £6 billion a year - our green agenda will help us to reduce unemployment and Labour's deficit.

And Conservative councils have led the way in delivering real change through many diverse green initiatives which are improving the environment of our local communities and saving residents' money. 

We understand that going green is a good thing in itself, but it is also good for the bottom line.

Whether it is energy efficiency measures that reduce waste and lower bills ...

Or cutting costs through better and sustainable procurement ...

Conservative councils are already showing that going green and saving money can be two sides of the same coin.

We can, and indeed in the current financial climate we must, be both lean and green.

And of course the action we take now can prevent the bills of failure in the future - bills which could be vast.

... Preventing pollution incidents that can cause long term damage ...

... Maintaining eco-systems that sustain life itself ....

Going green today is an insurance policy against a more costly future.

<h2>Working in Partnership</h2>

But today's conference has another objective.

By convening this conference we have a unique opportunity to hear from you - councillors who are implementing policy on the ground and getting the feedback from residents and businesses.

There is a real opportunity now, just months or even weeks away from a possible general election, to exchange ideas, share best practice and address any outstanding issues that we might face.

The Conservative Party's success in local government has given us a dominant position with the control of over 220 councils in Great Britain.

I believe that we can only achieve David Cameron's objective of a safer and greener society by working in partnership.

We must ensure that we work together to present and advocate for these policies at the upcoming general election, but we must also work hard to forge an effective partnership in government.

<h2>Conclusion</h2>

So thank you for being part of this initiative.

I hope that 'Lean & Green' won't just be a conference today ...

... but the beginning of a partnership and a programme for green action in government.

Now is the time to be setting out our approach to green issues, and I have explained the Blue-Green Conservatism agenda that together we need to promote.

I hope you find today's discussions helpful and I look forward to talking with many of you about the opportunities and challenges that we face.

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