7 in 10 UK councils struggling to finance their Net Zero transition

This month, we’re covering an interesting report of survey of 50 local authority decision makers – which found that most have not begun properly delivering their Net Zero transition plans on the ground, with funding constraints being the most common barrier to progress.

Just one quarter of the council representatives classed their employer as being properly into the ‘delivery’ phase of their Net Zero strategy.

When the survey respondents were asked about the biggest challenges to delivering their council’s ambitions, 71 per cent said that financing constraints were the biggest challenge. Rounding out the top three most commonly-cited challenges were a lack of in-house skills and a lack of resource.

“Encouraging public sector work on energy efficiency and transforming the public estate is essential to us,” comments Kevin Cox, Managing Director, Energys Group.

“It’s concerning to me that local authorities appear to lack the resource they need to get this crucial shift up to pace. We are ready and able to help any local authority seeking to embed Net Zero more swiftly, through both advice and installation across the quick, affordable wins energy efficiency delivers.”

On finance, the BBC reported last summer that UK councils are collectively facing shortfalls of some £3bn in their budgets for 2023-4. The impact this is having on the Net Zero transition has previously been researched by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, which is recommending that the UK government produces a long-term funding plan for local authority climate action.

On skills and resource, a lack of in-house expertise is clearly leaving some local authorities unsure as to how to flesh out and to deliver comprehensive Net Zero plans. Three-quarters of the professionals surveyed said they do not believe they have a ‘clear’ or ‘comprehensive’ understanding of their council’s emissions footprint. A strong baseline is a necessary foundation for all good environmental plans.

“This news is a telling reminder the public sector requires Net Zero support,” says Cox. “We are here to provide this.”

Efficiency confusion

The Guardian writes that a 91 per cent tax break alongside the new windfall tax on the profits of oil and gas companies was announced recently.

The thinktank E3G calculated that the tax break would hand between £2.5bn and £5.7bn back to the oil companies over three years, while an energy efficiency programme of £3bn over the same period would upgrade 2.1m homes making them less reliant on gas.

Proponents of energy efficiency, including loft and wall insulation, say efficiency represents a no-regrets investment that cuts bills for good, slashes the carbon emissions driving the climate crisis and boosts jobs.

Another report published by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI) found that a £4bn annual investment in energy efficiency could permanently halve heating bills for households by 2035. Its author said Sunak was handing out “raincoats” but “failing to fix the roof”.

Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme

According to a government release, public buildings across England will cut their use of expensive fossil fuels and save millions of pounds on bills, thanks to £553 million in government funding. (Having delivered over 70 projects under Phase 1 & 2 of the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme – PSDS – we welcome these numbers wholeheartedly.)

Hospitals, schools, libraries, museums and leisure centres across England are among hundreds of public buildings that will cut their use of expensive fossil fuels and save millions of pounds on bills, thanks to funding for affordable, low carbon heating and energy efficiency upgrades.

Crucially, new scope is coming for the public sector to secure more funding for Phase 3 of the scheme. Guidance on how to apply for the next round of applications, Phase 3b, will be published in July, with the application window planned to open for applications in September. Watch this space.

Energy bosses call for more efficiency

In a month dominated by dialogue and counterclaims on efficiency, City AM reports the government’s Net Zero strategy is only resonating with the UK’s “energy elite”, argued Utilita Energy (Utilita) chief executive Bill Bullen.

And Good Energy boss Nigel Pocklington told City AM that energy efficiency remains a “glaring hole” in the government’s strategy for dealing with the current crisis. He said: “If we could do something about the UK’s high level of energy inefficiency, you could make a lasting impact on bills every year, not just as a one off.”

And finally…

In an Environmental Audit Commitee (EAC) report to Parliament, authors warn the UK is facing a chronic skills gap in energy efficiency and retrofit.

Without these vital green skills in the UK economy, Net Zero ambitions will fall flat. EAC is therefore reiterating its previous recommendation that a retrofit strategy and upskilling programme be developed and published. In addition, EAC recommends that training in undertaking whole-life carbon assessments is made accessible through the education system.

EAC Chairman Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP said: “As in many other areas in the drive to Net Zero, the UK must have the green skills to make its low carbon future a reality. Before the summer recess in July, I urge the Government to publish a retrofit strategy and upskilling programme that can ensure the UK economy will have the green jobs necessary to deliver a low-carbon built environment.”

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