Departments ‘back net-zero objectives', Pocklington tells MPs

But energy security department perm sec acknowledges that decarbonising power sector by 2035 will be “very challenging”
Jeremy Pocklington appears before the Public Accounts Committee. Photo: ParliamentTV

By Jim Dunton

27 Mar 2023

The newly created Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has an “essential” leadership role in coordinating government’s work to make the UK a net-zero carbon economy by 2050 and other departments are supportive of the mission, Jeremy Pocklington has told MPs.

DESNZ permanent secretary Pocklington said the department’s creation last month had also been welcomed by stakeholders. He dismissed the suggestion that the break-up of the former Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy had been a disruptive move.

Speaking at a Public Accounts Committee hearing last week, Pocklington acknowledged that the government’s plans to switch the UK economy to clean electricity by 2035 as part of its net-zero ambitions would be “very challenging”.

But he said “sophisticated modelling” run by DESNZ indicated that the switch would be possible “with sustained effort over many years and many parliaments”.

MPs’ questions followed a National Audit Office report earlier this month that warned uncertainty over the government’s strategy for switching away from gas-powered electricity generation by 2035 had placed the target at risk.

Pocklington, who was previously perm sec at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, insisted DESNZ would give focus to delivering on the 2035 and 2050 targets.

“I think the creation of the department has been well received by stakeholders,” he said. “It is giving this vitally important agenda the focus it needs.

“We have been helped, pragmatically, by the fact that we have effectively been able to lift and shift many of the teams. The senior management structure is all in place, and we have been able to continue to focus on delivery.

“Disruption has been absolutely kept to the minimum, but I think having a single department on this will give us the focus and the bandwidth to deal with it. The scale-up of activity required is very significant.”

Pocklington told committee members that departments were on board with the net-zero ambition and that DESNZ’s role was to coordinate work across government and beyond.

“What is essential is that we build strong partnership and collaborative relationships with the relevant departments in Whitehall and that we as a department play a leadership role, working with No.10 and the Cabinet Office to ensure that all departments are aligned,” he said.

“This is something that I find departments want to get behind, and there is an awful lot of work under way.”

Pocklington rejected the suggestion that there was no plan for decarbonising the power sector, but accepted that there was “ a case for a clearer overarching plan” to pull existing work together. He said DESNZ would this week publish an energy-security plan that would contribute to the 2035 target.

At Thursday’s session the perm sec was asked what he believed the key barriers were to achieving the 2035 target.

He said planning issues related to the new transmission networks for clean electricity were “probably the biggest single constraint” DESNZ had.

“Planning is a very important process,” he said. “Ensuring that we can obtain the planning permission that we need and also the skills that we need.”

Pocklington told MPs it was anticipated that around 60% of ationally Significant Infrastructure Projects over the next decade would be “in the energy space”.

NSIPs also include major new roads, railway lines, port facilities and bridges as well as power-generation infrastructure.

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