Opinion: What will Alistair Darling's green budget deliver for the tech sector?

Opinion

Opinion: What will Alistair Darling's green budget deliver for the tech sector?

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said the Budget on 22 April would be "a job creator, a quality of life improver, and an environment-enhancing measure".

So what can we expect from these laudable sound bites. The general consensus from the media and blogosphere is that the Chancellor Alistair Darling's statement will be a series of smoke-and-mirror measures to disguise the state of the economy prior to a general election next year.

Political shenanigans notwithstanding what initiatives can UK’s beleaguered technology sector hope for in the much heralded ‘Green Budget’.

Job Creation
Financially, there have been calls for the Chancellor to radically overall the IR35 legislation as its rules are 'fundamentally flawed' and have not raised the revenue it was forecast to raise.

What it has done is increase the costs of projects by inflating rates, turned the big IT consultancies into soulless ‘body shops’, and put a brake on economic growth from prescribing against individual entrepreneurs competing for business on a level playing field. If the Government is serious about job creation in the green technology sector IR35 is an easy brake to release.

Quality of Life
An initiative the Government (as well as reducing its carbon footprint) could adopt would be for it to sign up to using collaboration technologies as a replacement for travel.

This is nothing new but the importance of collaboration tools will increase in 2009 as many enterprises have implemented travel restrictions – politician’s junkets notwithstanding!

Collaboration tools help to close the gap between the desire to save money and the requirement to stay in contact with other employees, customers, partners and suppliers.

However, any organisation increasing, or deploying any of these technologies needs to have the management policies and procedures in place to manage them. Let’s hope Alistair Darling is able to conjure up some financial incentive to encourage this.

Environmental Enhancing Measures
As for the environment the appropriate handling and reduction of hazardous waste associated with IT equipment is as important as encouraging IT organisations to reduce their power consumption.

However, it’s a cost to business and the Chancellor needs to tread carefully if he puts more of a financial burden on business over this issue.

Much has been written about heat management and energy conservation in data centers. While this is true and data centers are a source for both carbon emissions and big ticket cost savings – it’s also employees that can make the difference.

The simple fact is that people in offices do less than they do at home with regard the environment. Research shows that most people those are diligent about conserving energy at home but are ambivilant and prepared to waste it at the office.

This is especially true in the public sector where there is a culture of waste, believing wrongly, that because private sector pay is higher, profligacy is a perk.

Start at Home
This is an area where the Chancellor’s intervention could make a big impact. Tax-funded institutions have developed such spendthrift habits changing these attitudes in this Public Sector through greater staff awareness could lead to big savings for the taxpayer.

Research from the Carbon Trust shows a PC left on 24/7 costs £37 a year. Switching it off can reduce this to just £10 - enough power to make 34,900 cups of coffee. While, turning off all non essential equipment in an office for one night will save enough energy to run a small car for 100 miles.

If you manage a business on a budget, this is no small concern, but if you have control of Government purse strings this could save a fortune.

With over 100,000 terminals in the Department for Work and Pensions alone, the savings, while a drop in the ocean of Government spending, represents over 70 tons of CO².


MYTH BUSTER

Myth 1: It is best to leave PCs than to turn them off when n not in use.  A fallacy! The lifetime of a hard disk is limited by mechanical interactions and wear, rather than by electrical surges and start-up thermal cycling. Best practice is to turn off your computer/monitor/printer when heading off to any meeting that lasts more than a half an hour.

Myth 2: Screensavers save energy. Not True! Most screen savers do not save energy unless they actually turn off the screen or backlight; they use as much energy as word processing. To save energy switch off the monitor when not in use.

Myth 3: Laser printers don't use much energy when they're not printing. Wrong! They draw a third of printing power on standby. For an eight page a minute desktop printer this equals 100 watts. Turn off laser printers when you're not printing.

Myth 4: ENERGY STAR® computers automatically power down when not in use. While new computers come with sleep capability most come with the feature turned off, and it's not always obvious how to activate it. Make sure your users have clear instructions how to turn it on. Finally, use the sleep feature only as a backup. You should still turn the computer off when you're not using it.


Boxing Clever
What other initiatives might we expect from the Chancellor’s green box? (Surely they won’t miss an easy photo-opportunity by holding up the battered old red one).

The Government’s longstanding problem of finding a replacement to council tax and business rates might be answered by initiatives to allow Local Authorities to charge higher rates for energy inefficient commercial buildings thereby giving businesses an inducement to move into green buildings.

While HMG sees UK plc as a global green energy economy frontrunner we can expect investment incentives financed by energy companies (threatened by a windfall tax if they do not) as well as an announcement of income for small green energy generators.

This may mean tax relief for investing in green energy generation if the Treasury cannot fund significant new generating capacity and needs to encourage private sector investment.

Making an impact
The Chancellor, in his attempt to boost Labour’s environmental credentials might widen the range of "green" assets which qualify for enhanced capital allowances and extending cash repayment options to unincorporated businesses. This would target SMB and startups.

But with Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) an ever growing contributor to the UK’s carbon emissions its footprint now exceeds that for the aircraft industry.

With central and local government having the largest ICT spend (£12bn in ‘07/’08), Alistair Darling has the opportunity to set-out hard line plans to reduce the public sector carbon output. With such pressure on its suppliers to use and provide greener IT assets and services this initiative will filter through to us all.

Green Credentials
The spin doctors have set out the mood music for Tuesday’s Budget. For technology users to make an impact in response to the green imperative, businesses need both agility and innovation.

While the private sector should by its nature have this in abundance, the leaden steps of public institutions may hold us back unless the Chancellor plays a blinder.

We shouldn't need reminding that third world countries are low carbon footprint economies. With the amount of Government borrowing we’re being burdened with, achieving the UK’s green credentials might be closer than we think.

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This was first published in April 2009

 

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