Praise for Ecotricity, the prospect of self-driving buses in Stroud, and climate change denial were all touched on by a minister and the new Conservative candidate for Parliament in an interview with the SNJ last week.

Claire Perry MP, who works on climate change policy in the Prime Minister’s cabinet, joined Siobhan Baillie, recently picked by the Tories to fight Stroud at the next general election, on a visit to a Stonehouse-based green energy company on Friday.

After meeting the team behind Progressive Energy, which develops projects to decarbonise the UK’s power network, Ms Perry and Ms Baillie sat down with the SNJ to discuss Stroud’s green credentials - and what more can be done.

"The challenge we have in rural areas is that it's that it's not lovely new, high-insulated housing stock,” first noted Ms Perry on making homes energy efficient. 

“It's old cottages - and you can't put cavity wall insulation in."

"We have lots of technology companies coming up with all sorts of ways to cut energy bills in old homes, but we need to pull that through a bit more.”

Ms Perry then turned to green businesses based in Stroud.

“Amazing energy companies like Ecotricity are challenging the incumbents.

"All power to their elbow. What they're doing is offering better customer service, lower prices, and a green tariff.

"The challenge is: the people who would benefit most are often the ones least likely to switch.

“The data is quite alarming - those who don't switch tend to be older, poorer and less well educated, and also students in shared rental housing.

"We've worked with the industry for ages asking them to encourage these individuals to switch. They're doing that, but not fast enough.

“That's why we're bringing in the energy price cap bill. It will cap the rip-off tariffs for anyone who's on the standard variable or default tariff.”

The work of green companies that call Stroud home deserves more attention, then said Ms Baillie.

"What's nice is that there's a real pride about green energy companies here,” she said.

Stroud News and Journal:

Siobhan Baillie and Claire Perry meet the team at Progressive Energy in Stonehouse

“And not just the big names like Ecotricity, but companies like Progressive Energy. It's a point of pride for the area, and it'd be really nice to get more people talking about these companies."

Ms Perry added: "One of the great challenges right now with unemployment being so low is getting skilled people to leave London, to leave some of the big cities, to join hubs of excellence like Stroud.”

Before turning to what more councils in Gloucestershire can do to fight climate change, Ms Perry highlighted a green campaign she is launching next month.

"I'm introducing something next month which is called Green Great Britain Week,” she said.

“It's the first time we've done it. Part of it is to celebrate what we've done nationally and locally in areas like Stroud, but also challenge ourselves to do more both in the household and the business environment and, frankly, in government.

"We've got a whole week of events - there's going to be an EastEnders storyline, we're going to light up landmarks around the country green, and I'm officially asking for advice on how we get to a zero degree rise by 2050."

Ms Baillie said: "Our government has the ambition to be the greenest government, and this is filtering into people's consciousness. And we've got companies delivering it.

The SNJ then asked: what kind of role can councils play?

"So many things can be delivered better locally, like councils trying make all of their social housing in the area excellent in terms of energy efficiency by working with landlords,” replied Ms Perry, who also pointed to pots of money the government offers to councils for green projects.

"If a council wants to turn all of its street lamps into LED, they can apply for a loan to do that. The funding is there.

"I know it's tough, but I made about £8m available for local energy partnerships this year which I want people to bid into so they can work out how to work with their social tenants.

"We have all these great ideas in Westminster but it only works on the ground. And many councils are being very ambitious when it comes to things like cycling policy."

Stroud News and Journal:

Claire Perry, an MP from Wiltshire who works on climate change policy in the Prime Minister's cabinet

But Ms Perry suggested not all of the money available was being used by councils.

"We've got £400m in place for electric vehicle infrastructure, but not many councils have bid into it. They've slightly struggled to see the vision and the money is there from central government.

“I understand that councils have a lot of statutory duties - clearly things like safeguarding and child protection is taking up huge amounts of time and effort, plus social care - but for ambitious councils there is funding and support from central government.

Ms Baillie added: "On a very basic level for local there’s a need to remove the confusion about what we can all do day-to-day. I think there is still confusion about what you can and can't recycle - and more broadly what our social contract is with the council when it comes to environmental policy.

“It may be that a family can't afford an electric car, but the questions are: ‘is that an ambition in the future? And how can they get there?’

“That type of education process is very important.”

On innovation, Ms Perry, who represents a constituency in Wiltshire, suggested rural councils are often overlooked.

“I represent a rural area as well and I am fed up with the urban councils getting the 'whizzy' projects like the self-driving vehicle trials.

“For example, I don't know what your bus service is like, but we have lots of buses that aren't brilliantly used and cost a lot of money, but they're really vital for those people who don't have cars.

“Why can't we have self-driving buses? Why aren't we doing trials for public transport? And we should do those trials in a rural area.

Ms Baillie agreed, saying: "We're certainly at a pressure point of public transport here. We need innovative projects that would be able to plug the gaps from where commercial companies are moving away."

Ms Perry added: “And we tend to not have the rural areas bidding in for those. The self-driving car trials are in Greenwich, Milton Keynes, Oxford and I think there's one in Bristol. Let's just think a bit more ambitiously in rural affairs."

As a final question, the SNJ asked Ms Baillie what she made of a county councillor tasked with Gloucestershire’s environmental policy last week refusing to say climate change is the result of human activity.

"Yes to man-made climate change,” she said.

“It's just not a single issue - there's lots of elements to this that need we to look at when it comes to the environment.

Stroud News and Journal:

Siobhan Baillie, the Conservative candidate for Stroud at the next general election

"Nigel Moor is an excellent county cabinet member. I haven't read all of his comments but he's going to work really hard for the environment.

"I've seen the science reports, I believe that climate change is an issue.

“Even the skeptics and people looking at contradictory or other types of science reports available - we're all on board with believing that we've got to work together for the environment, for future generations.

"Nigel Moor is in exactly that position and is the right person. It's a positive thing that the county council made a decision to put him in place and in charge of climate change.

Ms Perry added: "The thing I say to people who say 'Should we be acting now?' is, first of all, there's no longer this trade-off between cost and doing the right thing because we've had incredible reduction in the costs of renewable energy.

“We can buy offshore wind now at a price that is unimaginably low and that's the reason we've been able to stop coal. We'll be off coal completely as a country by 2025 because of our investment in renewables.

“And, secondly, even if you don't believe the science, the economic opportunity from doing this is absolutely immense. The whole world is moving to a low-carbon future as we are.

“You can debate the science but - you know what - I kind of like the pace of that change in the UK and want us to be developing jobs and creating innovation that supports that.”