The sight on our streets of gas canisters and deflated balloons first thing in the morning are evidence of how some party goers the night before are sourcing Nitrous Oxide for personal consumption. Although the use of laughing gas is not funny, the challenge is to provide a legal deterrent from something that is evidently very dangerous for some of those using it, yet not actually an illegal substance. However it is not just party goers who are attracted to legal highs. The Government has its own desire for a fix of gas that they believe will make them happy. The drop of income to the Treasury as a result of falling revenues from North Sea gas and oil is having a measurable impact on the plans for an economic recovery, for a Chancellor who did not expect to be in No 11 Downing Street. He believes that one way of replacing this source of taxation is to speed up the fracking process so that shale gas can replace natural gas as a source of revenue. The big challenge for George Osborne is that fracking for gas is deeply unpopular with substantial numbers of people. As I wrote last week 28% of us are opposed to fracking compared to only 8% of who don’t want on-shore wind farms and 4% who oppose off-shore wind farms. Yet despite this the Government is removing subsidies from renewable forms of power at break neck speed (to save money), and using the planning system to make it more difficult for wind farms and solar farms to be installed on and off shore to satisfy their political agenda. The early signs of plans for off-shore wind farms being curtailed are already being seen and that should be of concern to all of us.
Because fracking is so unpopular, a fact recognised by Councillors who need to sign off permission for new drilling sites, the Chancellor and his Prime Minister are getting nervous. They have appointed to the role of Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd who was previously a new Minister in the Treasury and who has a background in economics, history and the film industry. The fact that one Government Department is responsible for both Energy and Climate Change shows how conflicted the role is, even assuming that the Minister had some background in one or other area. On Monday Amber disclosed that the Government will be writing to local councils to urge them to speed up planning decisions on fracking or else the Government will make the decisions. She wrote in a blog for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), that the current system which sees applications “dragged out for months, or even years on end” could spell the end of a “potentially vital national industry”. If Ms Rudd and her political colleagues were not so desperate for a fix, they would realise that their legal high, is as popular with the rest of us as canisters of Nitrous Oxide in the Streets of our towns, and realise that there are better ways of keeping the lights on. As for beleaguered treasury receipts, perhaps the Government can begin to tax some of the other untaxed or poorly taxed industries and businesses. That might make the Conservatives unpopular with some of their funders, but it is time for them to decide if they are going to serve the Country, or their Party!