MP GregÂ Clark has dismissed fears from green campaigners that his new department will relegate environmental issues to an ‘afterthought’, insisting they will be central to the new government’s industrial strategy.
As Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Mr Clark’s new post at Whitehall gives him a wide remit as well as responsibility over areas of economic importance.
The creation of the new department means there is no longer a minister with sole responsibility for Energy and Climate Change, which some believe will dilute its importance in government policy-making.
Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, said: “Climate change is the biggest challenge we face, and it must not be an afterthought for the government.
“Dealing with climate change requires a dedicated minister at the cabinet table. To throw it into the basement of another Whitehall department looks like a serious backward step.”
Speaking exclusively to the Times, Mr Clark defended merging the Department of Energy and Climate Change with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
He said: “Climate change will not take a back seat. Quite the opposite. I think it is right to link energy and climate change with an industrial strategy.
“Both things go hand-in-hand and Britain is at the forefront both in terms of combatting climate change and creating the technology to do so.”
He also defended the government’s decision to devise an industrial strategy in the first place, despite many in the Conservative Party associating it with what they see as the failed economics of the 1970s.
Instead, Mr Clark described it as a ‘forward thinking’ move on the part of Prime Minister Theresa May.
He added: “The development of an industrial strategy – which my department is putting together with the Chancellor and the Prime Minister – shows this government’s determination to ensure we maintain and enhance Britain’s strengths and build prosperity.”
Mr Clark said the strategy would be comprehensive in nature and seek to ensure there is the right funding for science, innovation and the development of a skilled workforce for British businesses.
It will also help to deliver a strong ‘global voice’ for British companies in the post-Brexit era, he said.
The Tunbridge Wells MP has already been busy fulfilling his new brief, visiting the Farnborough Air Show on Friday to speak to the heads of some of the UK’s most innovative companies.
“We are a nation which has world-beating expertise in the realms of aerospace and satellite technology.
“These are industries which are growing rapidly and it is this sort of thing we want to capitalise on.”
On Monday he met with members of Softbank, a Japanese company currently making a £24billion bid for Cambridge-based microchip firm ARM Holdings – widely considered to be the largest tech company in the UK and a developer of iPhone chips.
Mr Clark said the bid was a ‘vote of confidence’ in our domestic technology sector, pointing out that it was the single biggest investment by an Asian company into the UK in history.
He added: “They wanted to buy it because it is a leader in the ‘internet of things’ which is where the future lies.”
And despite his backing for a Remain vote in the EU referendum, Mr Clark said he ‘accepts the decision’ of the electorate and will work to ensure the country thrives.
“We need to seize on the opportunities available to us and forge new trade deals with the wider world.
“But this does not mean we will be turning our backs on our friends in Europe or no longer trade with them.”
Finally, despite his elevation to a new super-department, Mr Clark said he will always remain committed to those who live in the Borough of Tunbridge Wells.
“I love my constituency work and there will be no let-up in my constituency activities.
“This Saturday, for example, I will be holding one of my regular drop-in advice surgeries at Tunbridge Wells Farmers’ Market.
“No matter what role I take on in government, helping my constituents always takes priority.”