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President update: 29th November 2021

29 November 2021

This month, the focus has been very firmly on climate change (and not just the ADEPT Autumn Conference!), with widespread agreement that this is the ‘decade of action’ and we need to work together, urgently, to find solutions.

COP26 had a varied response - many positive pledges and commitments were made, including the announcement to end deforestation, agreements to bring forward green innovation in agriculture, promoting more sustainable land management practices, and the focus on rewiring national and international finance systems for net zero. 

However, there were also huge disappointments. The ‘watering down’ of the wording of the coal commitment was a blow, with pledges on emissions cuts falling short of those required to limit temperatures to 1.5oC. It was also disappointing that the conference did not focus on the significance of local government and its role in limiting and adapting to climate change.

At the ADEPT conference, this year’s theme: Climate, Recovery and Renewal – looking ahead to a decade of action, also had a climate change focus. The event was attended by nearly 200 delegates from local authorities and partner organisations across the country. 

For many of us, it was the first time to meet up in person and the energy in the room was palpable. The room was full of ambition and ideas, and the opportunity to share thoughts, reflect on ideas and plan for the future together felt very special.

The conference began with a ministerial address from Neil O’Brien, Minister for Levelling Up, The Union and Constitution. Throughout the event we were faced with some stark facts and figures. Josh Dunn, EY kicked off session one: Building Back Better – how do we do it? with some important information about the state of the economy, showing how there is strong growth in many areas in the UK, but we are running into supply issues and gaps in the workforce.

Sandy Sheard from HM Treasury, then spoke about economics of diversity and the Dasgupta Review, which argues that our economy, livelihood and wellbeing all depend on our most precious asset: nature. Sandy explained that our demands far exceed nature’s capacity to supply us with the goods and services we rely on. To tackle this, we need to do three things - balance inequation with increasing nature’s supply, change measures of economic success, and transform our infrastructure and systems.

The talk on the Marmot Review was both humbling and shocking. Professor Sir Michael Marmot showed the correlation between life expectancy and deprivation and the probable link between austerity and the impact on health. He argued that we need to put fair distribution of health and wellbeing at the heart of government policy.

Session two, which started with a pre-recorded message from Jo Churchill, Minister for Agri-Innovation and Climate Adaptation, then went on to look at Future places – how do we make ‘quality’ the default setting’. We heard from Natalie Prosser, who is launching the new ‘Office for Environmental Protection’ and from Simon Gallagher, DLUHC, who emphasised the importance of local and national government working together.

The Baroness Brown of Cambridge gave a powerful talk, explaining how reducing carbon emissions is crucial, but not enough to reduce climate impact: additional action is fundamental. She made the point that local government has a crucial role to play, but also pointed out that this is the biggest, most overwhelming task any of us have ever faced and significant investment is needed. However, she also pointed to the momentum of change, encouraging local government to be as brave as it can, pushing boundaries and finding solutions. 

Session three was a panel discussion on Is it a phoney war in the race for (road) space? which considered the growing competition for road space and asked if it is a phoney war given that - in order to decarbonise transport - car use will need to decrease. It prompted lively talks and debate from Sarah Sharples at DfT, Xavier Brice at Sustrans, Lucy Bush at Britain Thinks and Councillor Sarah Warren from Bath and North East Somerset Council. What was clear was that we need to bring communities along with us to succeed and that there is a need to focus on culture – this is about a change in behaviour. 

Day one concluded with a series of workshops, which looked at four topics: tackling skills and supply deficits in the workforce, the 30 minute rural community, data-driven decision making and organisational renewal. These all generated interesting discussion and positive ideas, which will be taken forward by ADEPT. 

Day two of the conference began with the session The local government jigsaw – how does place fit in changing times. Chaired by Jason Pavey from Atkins, the discussion included talks from Stephen Chandler at ADASS, Jim McManus at ADPH, Charlotte Ramsden from ADSC, Mark Lloyd at the LGA and from myself. It was an incredibly powerful discussion, highlighting how place and health are inextricably linked. 

The conference ended with a review of Live Labs 1 and a look forward to the future. We heard updates from all the Live Labs projects across the country – it was interesting to hear their sage advice for any future Live Labs programmes! 

Our next steps will be to review all the ideas and ambition shared during the conference and plan how ADEPT can support members in pushing these forwards.

The conference was an exciting time and I’m grateful to everyone that was able to attend. The shared ambition we all have to make a difference was clear and I hope this momentum continues. Of course, this event couldn’t have taken place without our sponsors and key partners, so I’d again like to thank them for their support.  

Our next event is of course the Live Labs Expo on 1st December at Pride Park Stadium, Derby! Spaces are very limited so please do book now. Come and meet the teams and find out how they’ve set up innovation programmes during a pandemic, adopted a broad range of new technologies from thermal roads to big data, and how each technology could work for your own local authorities Have a look at the Live Labs pages to get a flavour of all the trials and technologies, blogs and white papers.

You can find a wealth of information on what ADEPT is doing to support members tackle the climate change agenda here and of course, the ADEPT website, where we publish a whole range of updates and documents to support members.