Minister feather beds middle classes rather than tackle fuel poverty…

This is a fascinating little vignette from Julia Paul and Hearts and Minds (again) on the DSD’s decision not to implement a Green New Deal package, because, in the fairly accurate analysis of SF MLA Phil Flanagan, it was just too innovative for senior civil servants at DSD.

This is interesting, not least because it was well thought out project that had wide support from the Unions, the voluntary sector, and the CBI. It involved a complex system in which much of the costs would be contained within a longer timeframe that the twelve month accountancy period of the DSD…

It’s certainly not Minister Nelson McCausland’s best moment, when Julia Paul has to winkle of him that he had not taken any representations from the team that had put together the package to see if it could be tweaked to make it acceptable.

The real killer, and why Flanagan who has been prominent in talking about Northern Ireland persistent problem of fuel poverty was chosen to speak on the matter, is that the boiler replacement scheme has no chance of actually dealing with that problem.

The grant (which is money that goes out and won’t come back) is £1000. A decent new generation boiler costs £2200. That’s a shortfall of £1200. Who who can afford to raise that shortfall can truly be said to be suffering from ‘fuel poverty’.

If anything this is in danger of further feather bedding the middle class to the exclusion of those who need it.

Interesting that Phoenix Gas have backed the new boiler scheme after having previously given friendly backing to the Green New deal. Interesting too that Sinn Fein (ever capable of doing what Harold Wilson said all politicians ought to be able to do, i.e. riding two horses at one and the same time) welcomed the Boiler Replacement Scheme

  • cynic2

    Green New Deal

    When in doubt get a grant scheme wrap it in a green label and launch it as innovative. Truth is that its a waste of time that wont alleviate fuel poverty. The efficiency gains aren’t that great on a 1 to 5 year view.

    So its all down to ‘Dont worry Missus we’ll get you a new shiny boiler whether you need one or not’ not vote for me

    Good politics. Crap policy and economics

  • Evolve

    It may be a good idea to turn down the temperature in public sector buildings and transfer the savings to over 70s in an increased winter fuel payment or pension credit.

    This would benefit both public sector workers and OAPs.

  • cynic2

    And by the way a medium size decent condensing boiler is about £800 -£1000 and if the Government bought in bulk that might drop to say £650 – £750

  • aquifer

    Householders always feel short of cash so schemes that spread out the up front cost over a few years have huge potential. The English scheme went a stage further so that people who improved their home would not have to pay the money back if they moved, but this would take legislation by the MLAs. Oil prices are sure to rise so the boiler scheme is not a bad idea, but in the long term more insulation is needed to make heating affordable.

  • Cynic 2, I’m not sure whether your cynicism is directed towards the Green New Deal, the boiler replacement scheme or both. If it’s the latter, you are right about the easy populist nature of a generous grant scheme but wrong about the cost of installing a new boiler which is more like £2,300.If it’s the former, then I suggest you have a closer look at the figures. The Green New Deal figures stack up very well and this is acknowledged in the Department’s economic appraisal. And the grants proposed in most cases are very modest (15% on average) but enough to encourage people to invest.

  • cynic2

    check prices online. Most customers may need a smaller boiler but a new condensing gas boiler starts at around £700 retail. buy 1000 and it will be cheaper.


    Interviewer: ‘Did you ever meet with the Green New Deal people yourself?’
    Minister: ‘Oh yes I did’
    Interviewer: ‘I’m told you didn’t ‘
    Minister: Well, I met people advocating the green new deal’
    Interviewer: ‘But not the Green New Deal group’
    Minister: ‘Well, the whole point is I don’t make the decision on this directly …’
    Interviewer: ‘So you have made the decision then?
    Minister: ‘I have made the decision ……’

    Let’s try that again (honestly this time)

    Interviewer: ‘Did you ever meet with the Green New Deal people yourself?’
    Minister: ‘No I didn’t’

    The point is that the Minister does make the decision. While the Minister is obliged to take into account the economic appraisal, he is not absolutely bound by it. He can ask his officials to go away and seek ways to mitigate the risks identified in the economic appraisal. He can challenge some of the thinking contained in the economic appraisal; economic appraisals are not an exact science. He can even be brave and take the risk and run with the project in spite of the economic appraisal (perhaps with the consent of his party colleague, the Minister of Finance). You start to wonder of he is in charge of his Department at all. He might just as well have said that he didn’t make the decision on the boiler replacement scheme directly but that it was taken by the economists.

  • Hedley Lamarr

    This decision by the minister doesn’t seem to be thought out at all. If the CBI accepts the Green New Deal scheme had risks which could be mitigated and would have had greater benefits why, as Not Now John explains, did the Minister not query his economists’ position? Did the Minister talk to the CBI about the Green New Deal?

    How are we going to combat energy problems when we ignore viable and imaginative approaches which would not only help ameliorate these problems but would also create many jobs and fuel the economy?

  • Mick Fealty


    I’ve found a Baxi online for about £600…

    Now I don’t know what the householder would be getting for that (I guess it would be better than a fifteen year old boiler)… The higher priced models would presumably bring greater fuel efficiency bringing higher savings.

    But you are not accounting for the cost of installation… the re-plumbing of older systems often means making the cold tank in the attic redundant and renewing existing pipe works at the very least… For older systems you are talking about an awful lot more…

    I have a friend who’s replacing his in a former council house in England and it is costing him three grand plus to actually have it done… Now he’s not getting a cheap boiler in… But neither is he having all the whole system changed…

    I don’t know what the block is here because the minister refuses to disclose what the block is… From experience, departments do not like open ended business which has an ROI that moves from one year to another and another…

    That could be one of the things that’s killed this… If it has it’s a damned shame… They ought to find some way of jigging the system to get better outcomes…

    Subsidising the middle classes to get a nice top of the range when locking down heat loss for poorer citizens would be cheaper and more cost efficient in the longer term to me seems just a tad wrong headed..

  • Since Nelson says he based his decision based on what “economists” say (presumably PwC or the like) could their report not be obtained under an FoO request and figures checked?

    It seemed awfully late in the day for a change of heart.

  • Gonzo, the economic appraisal shows that the Green New Deal clearly beats the boiler scheme in terms of energy saving, carbon saving and wider economic benefits. Where the Green New Deal “failed” was on risk. The economists (DSD’s own people) managed to find 9 risks which they estimated as ‘high’ – and quite creative some of them were too!

  • cynic2


    We did ours for just over £1000 in a large 4 bed house. My point is that many of those who might need this and qualify will be in smaller accommodation with lower costs and again the economies on scale kick in if its done on a large scale.

    That aside I don’t think it should be done at all. It doesn’t offer real relief from fuel poverty – payback timescales are far too long. Better to terminate all the jobs of the staff who spent years working on it and redistribute that annual saving to the poorest – but you will wait a millennium for the Civil Service to recommend that option

  • cynic2

    What’s the yellow for? Criticising Chris’s posts again?

  • raftonpounder

    The simplest problem with the Boiler Replacement Scheme is that it is just a better heat source in the same leaky home. As soon as the boiler is turned off all the heat will be lost out through the roof and walls again. You just have a more efficient way of spending money on fuel.

    The boiler scheme also ties people into fossil fuel dependency for the 15-20 years. Fossil fuels that will inexorably rise in price. Is this really the best way to tackle fuel poverty?

    On a slightly separate note, is there any obligation on Ministers to take factors other than simple economics into consideration?

  • Mick Fealty


    You know that you don’t get pinged for criticism…

  • I’m disappointed but not at all surprised that the GND was rejected. The most telling comment on the video was the one that said that there was no Government involvement in the planning for GND.

    If they weren’t there it was never going to happen. The group should have seen that at that stage. Unfortunately force of argument doesn’t work in most cases.

    The frustration is also for the business planning element of this – it’s only a cloak to hide behind and if it wasn’t that it would have been something else. Saying that it would be amazing to think that a Government could be innovative at some stage and do something constructive.

    As I understand the GND was not very radical at all (having the involvement of so many would actually have reduced its radicalness). But it did offer help with several key Gov’t agendas – fuel poverty, climate change, construction jobs incl in manufacturing, health and wellbeing.

    The issues won;t go away and a more competent set of Minsters will come along to follow the crowd in the future and finally get on board with this agenda – I just hope they don;t do so far after Wales and Scotland have left us behind. I head that every 1pence rise in the cost of heating oil brings another few thousand people into fuel poverty.

    I’d find it very funny if the people doing the economic analysis are using long term trends in oil prices to assess their assumptions about prices in the future.

    Isn;t there an emergency planning role for the exec. What are they doing about peak oil?

  • cynic2

    “every 1pence rise in the cost of heating oil brings another few thousand people into fuel poverty”

    Heating oil is about 57p / litre so a 1p rise = just under 2%

    If it were really that finely balanced we really would have a crisis – but it isn’t and we dont.