Labour sees vital role for 'green' industry

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Environment Correspondent

A Labour Government would force dirty industries to curb pollution, in order to boost "green" firms and create new jobs in environmental technologies.

Frank Dobson, shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, will tonight tell Labour MPs that the leadership sees low-pollution, low-waste industry as essential for UK economic growth, competitiveness and exports.

Enforcing higher environmental standards at home is the main way of helping these industries of the future to grow.

''What you can't sell in Sweden or California today because it fails to meet their environmental standards, you won't be able to sell anywhere in the developed world in five to ten years' time,'' he told the Independent yesterday.

On a broad definition, the environmental protection industry already employs about 100,000 people in Britain and has sales of pounds 8bn a year, according to Government statistics. Worldwide, it is now a larger business than aircraft manufacture.

But according to Labour, this business is either bigger, growing faster or earning more from exports in all the UK's main competitors than here. While Britain has a pounds 300m trade surplus in this field, those of Japan, the US and Germany run into several billions.

''They are markets which are growing in size and importance,'' says Mr Dobson's report, Leading The Future, to be given to MPs tonight. ''In the future they will provide an increasing number of high-quality, high-skill, high-wage jobs.

''In Germany, Japan and the USA, strict environmental standards have been promoted and ... companies are being given the spur to develop new processes and technologies.'' When other countries have caught up by implementing their own higher standards, these firms have seized the chance to export.

Labour accepts that tougher standards could force some of the weaker companies in highly-polluting industries to the wall, costing jobs. But it believes these will be more than compensated for by new jobs in minimising waste, recycling and pollution-curbing firms.

''There isn't a choice,'' said Mr Dobson. ''I think jobs in dirty industries will be wiped out in any case, because they can't compete internationally.''

The party leadership is also considering tax incentives for companies which invest in pollution-curbing equipment and manufacturing processes which cut waste. One possibility is to allow them to write off the entire investment against corporation tax in just one year, instead of over several years.

According to Adrian Wilkes, director of the Environmental Industries Commission, Germany implemented the highest air pollution control standards in the world.

The rest of the EU has moved to catch up, largely through implementing EU directives. One result is that the new generation of electricity-generating rubbish incinerators now being built around Britain - and costing billions of pounds in total - are largely manufactured overseas.