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Amber Rudd defends solar subsidy cuts as another firm goes out of business

Published 15/10/2015

Southern Solar designed solar systems across southern England and Wales
Southern Solar designed solar systems across southern England and Wales

Amber Rudd has defended the government's controversial cuts to support for the solar industry as another firm collapsed.

Southern Solar, which has offices in areas including London and South Wales, has gone into administration with its chief executive Howard Johns accusing ministers of "misguided" policies which will "kill off" the industry.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ms Rudd insisted that solar energy had a "great future" in the UK but she had to get the level of subsidies under control.

Southern Solar is the latest firm in the industry to go out of business, with warnings that thousands of jobs were now in danger of being axed.

Ms Rudd told reporters at a Westminster lunch she was "always concerned about job losses" but insisted that the solar industry would thrive.

"I think that solar has a great future in this country," she said.

"It is a great British success story and I believe it will continue to be so.

"I want to make sure that bill payers, who pay for the subsidy, are making the right contribution to solar and that they don't overpay."

She blamed her Liberal Democrat predecessor Ed Davey for allowing the money spent on subsidies to get out of control.

"I'm doing a consultation at the moment to look at what might be the right level of support for solar," she said.

"I would add to that that solar has had a large subsidy - larger than expected under projections made in 2012 - over the past few years and there is less money available now, because we are working in an environment now where we have to stay within budgets.

"That's one of the key changes between having a Conservative secretary of state and a Lib Dem secretary of state.

"I have got to stay within the budget."

Mr Johns said: "The demise of Southern Solar is the latest example of human misery generated by the misguided policy of the current government.

"This is a direct result of the government's recent announcements that kill off support for solar energy via the feed-in tariff scheme."

He added it was "madness that the UK government should sabotage UK jobs and businesses" in the sector.

Last week, almost 1,000 jobs were lost when the Leicester-based Mark Group went into liquidation, while Climate Energy also went out of business, putting a further 128 jobs at risk.

Southern Solar, launched 13 years ago, used to employ 100 workers but that number had been cut to 22, who will now lose their jobs.

A spokesman for the Solar Trade Association (STA) said: "The government's proposals for solar are so extreme that most solar companies are not able to envisage surviving next year.

"The few that can are looking to exit the UK.

"The government must recognise they have made a very serious mistake and act quickly to stabilise the British solar industry."

The STA has sent a "rescue plan" to the Department of Energy and Climate Change to every MP, calling for urgent action to prevent the industry "unravelling", with the loss of thousands of jobs.

Ministers have announced plans to cut "feed-in tariff" subsidies for small-scale arrays of solar panels on roofs by 87%, a move which it claims is necessary to prevent rising green energy payments hitting consumer bills.

But businesses, campaigners and energy industry experts have lined up to warn the cuts could lead to more than 20,000 job losses and stall the ''solar revolution'' the government claims to support.

Former Tory minister Lord Barker, who was the Prime Minister's climate change envoy, used a letter to The Times to warn that the current proposals for further cuts would be "catastrophic" for the industry.

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