I talked to leaders from councils and authorities across the country alongside representatives from BEIS and DEFRA to unpick the roles of local and national government in the complex skills and Net Zero policy landscape. This is what I learnt.
Green skills are the key to delivering Net Zero
The UK government has advanced a raft of new policies since 2020 to accelerate Net Zero. But many critical policy gaps remain, including in skills development and local delivery. Both need a more coherent, comprehensive approach.
The UK has significant shortages in green skills in every major economic sector in every region. Almost every local authority polled by UK100 says green skills development is a priority for Net Zero. Particularly in relation to home energy efficiency, identified as an essential tool for delivering Net Zero while tackling the cost-of-living crisis, but suffering from acute skills shortages.
An estimated one in five UK workers — that’s 6.3 million jobs — will be directly affected by the transition to Net Zero, with local multiplier effects increasing the impact. Young people entering the workforce need the right skills, but there must also be a focus on retraining and developing skills to ‘green’ millions of existing jobs. Eight in ten workers currently will still be employed in 2030. Over a million people working today are employed in emissions-intensive ‘brown’ jobs and will need extra targeted support.
The local authority role is being overlooked - an employer-led approach will not deliver at the pace and scale required
The local authority leaders I interviewed were passionate about developing local green skills. They are driving relationships between businesses, providers, and communities. They are leading projects to create market confidence in the Net Zero economy. For example, by upgrading the energy efficiency of their social housing stock, investing in electric vehicle charging and making procurement greener.
But they are being let down at the national level. The government has failed to define or adequately account for their role in either skills development or local Net Zero – leaving local authorities frustrated. They feel their efforts are unsupported and undermined.
Where there is clarity is in the government's belief that skills development should be employer-led. However, the Skills for Net Zero: Insight Briefing finds this approach alone will not bring about the timely transformation of the UK workforce. The market moves too slowly to drive employer demand. And many smaller employers are too focused on immediate business needs, lack confidence or cannot afford to invest in training. The result is a significant but unrecognised reliance on local authorities to do the heavy lifting.
Many local authorities are at the vanguard of climate action. They are ambitious and want to go further and faster. The government is missing a trick by failing to properly define and support their role in Net Zero delivery and local skills development.
The government’s plans for skills development and Net Zero are disjointed and too short-term.
Whilst it is encouraging that green skills and delivering Net Zero are live issues, with many policies announced since 2020, there is a significant disconnect between the two policy areas. They need much closer integration.
- Net Zero appears to be an afterthought in the policies designed to develop skills. For example, Net Zero only made it into proposals for new Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) thanks to an amendment during the parliamentary passage of the Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022.
- Local government is not integrated into Net Zero skills policy. For example, the Green Jobs Taskforce had no local authority representation. Whilst the Green Jobs Delivery Group now has one local authority representative, which is positive, the areas remain too peripheral.
- Too many government schemes are competitive, piecemeal, and short-term. This represents a failure to capitalise on the potential of local authorities to deliver impactful, cost-effective, long-term programmes and to incentivise partnerships and collaborations, to learn from each other, replicate and scale.
Further Education remains critically underfunded
At the same time, Further Education providers cannot provide enough relevant courses and apprenticeships.
Even before Jeremy Hunt’s autumn statement last week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies was forecasting total spending on adult education would be 25% lower in 2024-25 than in 2010-11. More funding announced for schools is welcome, but it is hugely disappointing and short-sighted that there is none for further education.
Further education needs long-term certainty and adequate funding to plan a curriculum for the future. They also need it to incentivise people with the right skills to deliver it. It also needs to invest in expensive equipment, such as the heat pumps on which trainees need to practise.
Hope for the future
The parallel running of the Green Jobs Delivery Group and the Local Net Zero Forum offers clear opportunities to align the two initiatives, but if or how this is happening is unclear. It needs addressing as a priority.
Early analysis of LSIPs gives us cause for hope, however. Electric and hybrid vehicles, green construction, green energy, carbon capture, and waste management represent almost 55% of the plans currently published. But local authorities need a clear role in developing LSIPs to help ensure alignment with the strategic economic development priorities of the area. There also needs to be a wide stakeholder engagement across all key sectors and the region.
Many of the challenges that seemed insurmountable until very recently are becoming more attainable. There is growing awareness of the urgent need to cut emissions and technological advances that have delivered a dramatic drop in the cost of renewable energy production. There is hope, but change will only occur if we have a workforce with the skills to deliver.
The UK Government has made a start on policies to develop the skills to deliver ambitious climate targets. But my interviews highlight a pressing need to better integrate skills development with Net Zero, and more clearly define and support the role of local authorities in both.