The Government has again been urged to stop its sell-off of the Green Investment Bank (GIB), as MPs express concerns that the expected buyer will split up the bank.
Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas raised an emergency question in the House of Commons on 11 January about privatisation of the GIB.
At the same time, scrutiny panel the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), on which Lucas sits, has published a letter from chair Mary Creagh to business secretary Greg Clark that shares similar concerns.
Despite frequent reassurances from the Government, including the creation of a ’special share’, the GIB’s future as an environmentally focused body has been cast in fresh doubt in recent weeks following media reports that Australian firm the Macquarie Group is the preferred buyer.
Creagh’s letter, sent on 20 December, says: “Macquarie has already been subject to criticism for its management of other large infrastructure companies, such as Thames Water.”
She asks for Clark to indicate how much capital the bidders have committed to invest in the GIB for the next three to five years, and what assurances are in place to prevent the organisation being split up.
In the Commons, Lucas (pictured above) gave evidence to suggest the bank could be split up.
“Between 22 November and 1 December, 10 new companies were incorporated and registered to the GIB’s London offices.
“Those changes suggest Macquarie is planning to fundamentally hollow out the GIB. So why have these 10 new companies been set up?
“Will [Clark] confirm that changes made at the end of last year were made at the behest of Macquarie? Why is the Government setting up a structure to invite in a profiteer asset stripper?”
She added: “Will the minister admit that this sale could lead to the bank being fatally undermined as an enduring institution? Will he stop the killing off of the GIB? Will he halt the sale process with immediate effect?”
In the debate, Conservative MP Peter Aldous shared similar concerns about asset stripping and loss of jobs.
He said: “Will my honourable friend consider, in that light, a pause to the process so that we can ensure that the process of the GIB continues to perform the great role that it has since 2012?”
Answering for Clark, business minister Nick Hurd (pictured below) did not suggest the Government would consider slowing down the privatisation.
“Can I just assure [Aldous] that we are not being naïve in this process. We’ve set some very clear criteria for the sale.
“We’ve run a genuinely competitive process and we are now evaluating the proposals before us, but through the lens of the criteria that we have set which include value for money, declassification […] what we want to hear are forward plans for a dynamic ongoing concern seeking to mobilise more private capital into the green economy.
“He knows as well as anyone in this house we need to mobilise a lot of private sector cap to get the green energy that we need.”
SNP MP Callum McCaig asked whether the bank’s headquarters in Edinburgh would remain. Hurd said the jobs in Scotland were “part of the criteria” by which the Government would choose its preferred bidder.
Shadow business secretary Clive Lewis also suggested the GIB was being privatised merely out of an ideology of “private good, public bad”.