AS with the Chancellor’s Spring Statement a few weeks ago, so too with Boris Johnson’s energy security strategy, unveiled 48 hours ago. Something important was missing.

Just as Rishi Sunak could – and ought to have – done more to assist the very poorest households who find themselves in the grip of punitive increases in the cost of living, Johnson, with his customary aversion to detailed policies, could – and ought to have – done more to help people meet the crippling cost of heating their homes.

He made the suggestion that households need to reduce their bills on their own. Concrete proposals on the theme of energy efficiency, beyond Sunak’s decision last month to reduce VAT on home insulation and heat-pumps, would really have helped.

Little wonder that the absence of any new initiatives should have attracted criticism from across the political divide; little wonder that the boss of E.ON UK says that measures such as home insulation could be a “silver bullet” for the energy system.

As our political correspondent David Bol pointed out yesterday, better-insulated homes can be achieved relatively quickly and can have a markedly quick impact on fuel bills. It really does feel like a missed opportunity.

It’s also worth noting that Number 10 did not think to consult its Scottish counterpart before announcing the energy security policy: a curious and damaging omission, given, as Scotland’s energy secretary, Michael Matheson, observed, that the new strategy will lean very heavily on Scotland’s energy resources.

It’s increasingly difficult to avoid the suspicion that Johnson is only too happy to return Scots’ indifference to him in spades.

In a broad sense the energy strategy was welcome, in that it seeks to achieve greater longer-term energy independence at a time of unprecedented market volatility and when Putin’s barbarities in Ukraine are making it essential for the West to lessen its dependence on Russian oil and gas.

The headline-grabbing proposal for eight new nuclear plants in England and Wales (a mix of large reactors and smaller, modular reactors) will satisfy the pro-nuclear lobby, but the surreal delays and cost overruns involved in getting the new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point C up and running do not augur well for the planned newcomers, the timescale for which is characteristically vague.

That said, although the Scottish Government is resolutely opposed to nuclear power, dismissing it as risky and expensive, it has also set its face against the thought-provoking new technology of small modular reactors which, it’s claimed, might have the potential to provide almost limitless zero-carbon without the by-product of hazardous radioactive waste.

There might yet be a case for Scottish ministers to rethink their opposition to these small reactors, not least because but Scotland feeds into the same energy grid as the rest of Britain.

The challenge, as framed by UK government ministers Greg Hands and Kwasi Kwarteng in recent days, is for the SNP and Greens to say how “decarbonised baseloads” of power can be provided on those days when the wind does not blow.

The new strategy also proposes more oil and gas being extracted from UK reserves in the North Sea. The idea comes just days after the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reminded the world of the compelling need to cut fossil-fuel use. What are needed, it said, are “rapid, deep and immediate” cuts in CO2 emissions; such emissions would need to peak within three years if we are to stave off the worst impacts.

The SNP government has made considerable strides in promoting renewable energy, for which it deserves praise. But it is too early to call time on North Sea oil and gas. We need to transition, not drop off the cliff.

Despite its quick-off-the-mark opposition to the Cambo oil-field, for example, the Scottish Government is realistic enough to realise that the North Sea oil and gas sector will still have a role to play in the decades ahead, even if any newly-granted licences will not be enough to stem Britain’s importing of oil and gas in the short term.

The strategy recognises the role that renewables have to play in safeguarding our energy supplies, but it is a pity that Johnson caved in to a minority of Conservative backbenchers and backed away from a significant expansion of onshore wind farms in England.

The proposed substantial increase in offshore wind is welcome, but can it actually be achieved, given that it would necessitate sweeping changes to current planning rules? Elsewhere in the strategy there are commitments to increased hydrogen production and a four-fold boost in solar capacity. But the reaction to the entire strategy from many independent commentators has been one of disappointment; again and again the phrase ‘missed opportunities’ crops up.

Renewables are the way forward and the strides that Scotland has made, and will continue to make, are hugely positive. They must be encouraged – as must, surely, energy-efficiency measures.

In the longer term there might even be a lesson to be learned by Westminster governments of red and blue alike. Johnson alluded to “some of the mistakes of the past” finally being addressed by his strategy. Keir Starmer countered that many of its schemes should have been done over the last 10 or 12 years. Governments have taken their eye off the energy ball; if the current crises mean that they will be less complacent in future, well and good.

In the meantime we will have to tighten our belts. Too many of us will hope that we can still afford to heat our homes. If we had sought some crumbs of comfort from either the Spring Statement or the new strategy, we might judge that it would have been a waste of energy.



The damaged Chancellor

IT wasn't difficult to fathom Rishi Sunak’s anger that the financial affairs of his wife, Akshata Murty, should have been the subject of embarrassing leaks. It is, he asserts, a “political hit-job”.

The daughter of one of India’s wealthiest men, Murty benefitted from non-domiciled status, and thus did not have to pay tax on overseas earnings. But contrary to what she implied, she made the conscious decision to apply for non-dom status. Though entirely legal, it put Sunak into an invidious position.

She has at least now had the decency to agree to pay UK taxes on her overseas income, insisting that she did not want to be a "distraction" for her husband.

Her non-dom status had led to allegations of hypocrisy against Sunak, who as Chancellor had overseen Britons’ biggest tax burden since 1940s while blithely accepting that his wife can exploit a loophole and pay less tax. His position had surely been untenable.

What has been newsworthy of late is the speed with which the Chancellor's slick reputation has unravelled. Any ambitions he may have had of replacing Boris Johnson at Number 10 have been damaged by a perceived litany of mis-steps. Tory colleagues have variously described him as naive and inauthentic. It seems that Johnson has one less rival to worry about now.