It’s a pleasure to join you today, and a particular pleasure to speak alongside a Parliamentary colleague; Baroness Kramer, a former colleague of mine at the Department for Transport.
Now, Susan and I might have our political differences.
But that we’re both here today indicates that on the need for an emission-free-car future, we’ve found that rare thing; something approaching political consensus.
Yes, we might differ in the details.
About the precise route we’d take.
But on the destination itself, we’re in agreement.
We need an emission-free driving future.
And we need to get there as quickly as possible.
That is accepted.
But, actually, there’s something even more significant than political consensus going on here.
In the room today we’ve got one of the most diverse audiences a politician’s ever likely to encounter.
We’re joined by electric car designers and charge-point manufacturers – just as you’d expect.
But we’ve also got academics – from at least 6 different universities.
We’re joined by representatives of the Shell Corporation.
And the British Lung Foundation.
And all sorts of behavioural insight specialists, engineers, software experts, accountants and advertisers.
I think this varied gathering signifies that on the question of emission-free vehicles, there’s more than a political consensus.
There’s a rapidly growing social consensus too.
Need for change
The reasons are clear.
Though air quality has improved, the latest estimates are that air pollution contributes to around 50,000 premature deaths in the UK every year .
Cars and vans have the most significant influence on the UK’s air quality.
And we now know that poor air quality is the fourth largest risk to public health.
With the most severe effects experienced by children and the elderly, and people with lung and heart conditions.
Much of the evidence for the damage done to air quality was not available to us even ten or even five years ago.
But now that we know, what are we doing about it?
Political theorists say that when governments want to create change, they have available to them three instruments of power.
The can use public money.
They can make laws.
And they can communicate.
Well, we are doing all three.
In so doing we are drawing upon all the resources of state power to effect the change we need.
Let me take first the money we are spending.
During this Parliament, we will invest well over £600 million supporting the adoption of low emission vehicles.
That includes subsidising the purchase of new vehicles by consumers.
It includes more than £80m for subsidising the cost of charging infrastructure, with grants of £500 off the cost of a home installation, and similar support for charge points on streets and at workplaces.
£150 million to support the adoption of the cleanest buses and taxis.
Over £100 million funding research and development of new zero emission technologies, building on the UK’s leading scientific and automotive sectors.
On top of a £270 million industrial strategy fund, some of which will support the development, design and manufacture of the batteries that will power the next generation of electric vehicles.
All this adds up to one of the most comprehensive packages of support from any government in the world.
But money alone isn’t enough.
The second way we’re furthering change is through new laws.
The Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill – which I am currently leading through Parliament will help increase the availability and accessibility of charging networks across the UK.
First, it will make it easier for drivers to find and use charge points.
Today’s charging infrastructure is distributed across a huge range of locations.
Car parks, back streets, motorway service stations, high streets…
That diversity is a good thing.
But it can make it hard for drivers to find a charge point when they need one.
Even where location information is available, it can be patchy and inconsistent, with no single open-source database.
So we want an accessible database – listing charge point location, price, and availability, and there for app and website makers to use.
Second, we want all charge points to be accessible to all electric vehicles.
Our bill gives powers to require interoperability – so that the design of chargers convenes on a common standard.
Third, the government wants to see charge points installed at the places motorists would most expect to find them.
Already there’s at least one charge point at the vast majority of motorway service areas.
And fuel retailers are installing charge points on their forecourts.
But in some suitable areas, there’s potential to go further and for these familiar stop-offs to play an even greater role in spurring the transition to electric vehicles.
So the bill gives us power to require provision of charge points at motorway service areas and large fuel retailers.
Of course, just because we have these powers, does not mean we will have to use them.
If we need to act, we will, proportionately.
But sometimes the mere existence of a power is enough to prompt the response we want.
We also know that the demand electric vehicles will place on the national grid is of critical importance – and SSE is right be working on this very issue.
In particular, we need to ensure electric vehicle charging is “smart” – that is, able to flex demand to avoid pressures and take advantage of underutilised capacity.
So the bill also contains powers to ensure that charging infrastructure has the capability to work in this way.
The Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill is currently going through its committee stage in the House of Commons.
And I value the continuing input of Parliamentary colleagues.
Go Ultra Low
Yet the final lever of state power we’re using is the power to persuade – the power of advertising and communication.
One of the greatest obstacles to consumers buying electric cars are outdated misconceptions.
That’s why in 2014 we launched our Go Ultra Low campaign.
It’s a joint government and industry campaign to inform the public of the capabilities, cost savings and range of electric vehicles on the market.
When we began 3 years ago, we had 5 car manufacturers on board.
This year, we’re backed by 8 manufacturers – Audi, BMW, Hyundai, Kia, Nissan, Renault, Toyota and, yes, Volkswagen.
The 2017 campaign has a budget of £4 million.
And I hope that will help us top even last year’s campaign, which saw our adverts reach over 23 million people.
Government action is working
These 3 strands – spending money, making laws and communicating with the public – mean we’re using every lever of power available to us to promote change.
And we’re seeing results.
There are now over 11,000 public charge points in the UK.
Over 75,000 government-funded charge points installed in people’s homes
And over 80,000 ultra low emission vehicles already on our roads.
Last year the UK had the largest market for ultra low emission vehicles in the EU, and only Norway sold more in Europe.
And our new Bill should accelerate the change we’re seeing and that we desperately need.
But there is still some way to go before we reach our 2040 vision for all new cars and vans to be zero emission
And by 2050, for nearly all cars and vans on our roads to be emission free.
So within the next year we will set out in full the government’s strategy for the transition to zero emission road transport.
So we stand in a rare moment in automotive history.
We are, in fact, people with a precious opportunity.
An opportunity to shape the future – just like the adopters and promoters of the first motor cars were able influence the ultimate form of the car for all time.
And given that we’re today being hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Design and Innovation Group, I’d like to say something about design.
The mass introduction of charging infrastructure to the public realm means we’re seeing an entirely new kind of street architecture.
An architecture to become as ubiquitous as Gilbert Scott’s red phone box.
Or the zebra crossing lights that some people call Belisha Beacons, after the 1930s transport minister of that name.
Now, both these examples of design have something in common – they’re designed for visibility and instant recognition.
I would like to see our charge points share that characteristic.
But I’d also like something more.
Wouldn’t it help the acceptance of charge points if they were not just recognisable, but also attractive, even beautiful?
And so I have wondered about running a public charge point design competition.
It would give everyone the chance to have a say.
It might elicit something of beauty and efficacy.
And best of all, it might even create a product to which my name could be linked for time immemorial.
One Member of Parliament has already ventured such a name – the Hayes Hook-up.
Who could resist one of those?
In conclusion, I’d like to say this: consensus is a scarce and valuable thing these days.
But on our electric car future, consensus is what we now have.
The government therefore has a responsibility to deliver on that consensus – and we will, using all the means available to us to do so.