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Blueprint Coalition – taking the message to government

30 September 2021

 

Blueprint Coalition – taking the message to government. ADEPT COO Hannah Bartram provides an update on recent workshops with MHCLG.

It’s been a busy time for the Blueprint Coalition over the last six months. We published a brief update in July, but I thought you might like to know a bit more about the series of workshops we co-hosted with MHCLG (now DLUHC) between March and July. Those workshops focused on the low carbon economy; funding, governance and accounting; planning and retrofit; decarbonising transport; and restoring nature. A final workshop on resources and waste is planned for early October 

The workshops brought policymakers from different government departments together with Blueprint coalition partners and sector experts. There were usually 7 or 8 representatives at each workshop: a mixture of the coalition members (such as Ashden, Friends of the Earth and Green Alliance) and local authority representatives with specialist knowledge. ADEPT led on the transport workshop held in June with Mark Kemp, chair of the Transport & Connectivity Board and Pam Turton, Portsmouth City Council presenting. In addition, we fielded local authority (LA) speakers at every other workshop. Can I take this opportunity to say thank you to those people, once again.

A number of key themes have emerged. The first was the recruitment and retention challenges faced by councils across the country. Every workshop made clear that ambitions to reach net zero by 2050 will be held back if LAs are not better equipped with more staff, capacity and knowledge to be able to deliver. This will become ever more problematic as we are required to do more to reduce emissions and restore nature. We cannot match the private sector in terms of competitive salaries for technical jobs, making it difficult to develop and deliver projects, and best practice. Skills and capacity shortages will become more acute where councils are given new duties, such as under the Environment Bill that is due to become law this autumn. Government is trying to build up an evidence base to understand the skills that are needed to deliver on climate change, which is a positive. Meanwhile, the ongoing work of the Blueprint coalition can help to build the evidence base to show why we need longer term funding. We can also help government to map wider skills needs in local economies, to identify areas across the UK at particular risk of business closures and job losses in the transition to net zero, and develop targeted support to enable a fair transition.

We need to demonstrate to government that councils are making effective use of the powers and resources that we already have. There were some questions raised around the current fundraising powers we have, but not all take advantage of (e.g. Workplace Parking Levy), and also questions around what central government’s role would be if councils were given significantly more powers to tackle climate change locally. Civil servants made it clear that it is useful to have measurable benefits to help make the case for local delivery in a way which central government can make comparisons. An example raised in the nature session showed that there are £8.50 of benefits for every £1 spent on nature. But local authorities in many instances are unable to provide data on the measurable benefits of place-based spending. This lack of data and evidence also means that central government does not understand how a local place-based approach could be better than a national approach. This was raised in the retrofit session, where we argued that there is a danger that national policy ignores local circumstances, and the ability to build up skills through relationships between local authorities, colleges and employers. Central government colleagues suggested that it would be useful to understand, in concrete terms, how the delivery mechanism for an area-based approach to retrofit roll out could be better than a national approach.  

We have continued to press the case for a streamlined, more coherent and longer-term approach to allocating funding to local authorities. There are significant problems with the current process of bidding for money. The bidding process itself often requires the use of consultants and can cost a local authority between £35,000 and £100,000 depending on its size - costs that are not always reimbursed by the funding stream. Funding is often provided on short timescales, raising a lot of challenges around deliverability and sustaining markets. For example, energy efficiency policies need to be long-term to avoid short, piecemeal policies. Civil servants were open to understanding the challenges of short-term, fragmented funding and held out some hope that the Spending Review might bring a longer-term settlement that would provide an opportunity to take a more place-based approach.

I’m pleased to say that these have been really positive conversations, with strong engagement from civil servants. We understand that a recent meeting of Permanent Secretaries from relevant departments has considered the outcomes drawn from the workshops, and we remain hopeful that these discussions will positively influence imminent key government strategies, and the Spending Review that is due out at the end of October.  

Other things that the Coalition has been doing recently include:

  • A joint submission to the Commons Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry into local government and net zero – Carolyn McKenzie, Chair of the Energy & Clean Growth working group gave evidence to the committee in September, along with representatives of the LGA, London Councils and UK100 (watch the meeting here).
  • Setting up a number of thematic sub-groups to take forward more detailed work. ADEPT has been asked to take a leading role in the Nature, Transport and Waste groups.
  • Supporting Blueprint partner Friends of the Earth in its research project on green skills and jobs, and providing case studies for its 50 key points for councils to include in local climate action plans.