UK100 Chief Executive, Polly Billington, was invited to be a part of the panel at the official launch of Rt Hon Chris Skidmore OBE MP's Mission Zero Net Zero Review at King's College London on Monday [16 January] alongside the Climate Minister, Graham Stuart MP.
The full event can be watched here.
UK100 worked closely with Chris Skidmore on Mission Zero and is directly referenced in the Net Zero Review several times. For more information on the Net Zero Review roundtable event UK100 hosted with Chris Skidmore and local leaders at the end of 2022.
Below is a full transcript of Polly's contributions.
As a member of the panel at the Mission Zero launch event, Polly Billington, Chief Executive, delivered the following remarks on the Net Zero Review.
"It's a very good day for local Net Zero action because Chris, in his report, actually says unlocking the ambition of places and communities will deliver the most successful version of Net Zero. And for us, we've been the network of local government leaders who are already ambitious on climate action and have been trying to do this. This is basically, Chris, repeating back what we've been saying, and we hope the government listens because that will make a real difference.
"And there are specific recommendations that you've got in the report that will make a big difference, the acknowledgement of the need for a national framework. I mean, our members are doing this on their own backs and of their own volition, with an enormous number of national barriers, national framework barriers, and policy barriers in their way. Imagine what it would be like if there was a national framework which presumed in favour of local Net Zero action. How much more would be done! So we think that's great.
"The reduction in competitive bidding is also fantastic. The amount of money that is spent simply applying for money, not getting any money, therefore wasting money, is between £27 and £63 million spent by local authorities applying for bids. We don't need it to be competitive. We need it to be available for everybody.
"And then on further, say, the reform of the EPCs, I know it sounds really boring, but EPCs actually create perverse incentives. It doesn't encourage you to install a heat pump. That's daft. We need to change that, and we're pleased to see that. And I'm really pleased about that. There are a lot of grid nerds in the room, as you'd expect, but we're really pleased to see the recommendations about the Future Systems Operator enabling smart local energy systems.
"And in terms of the planning framework, we need to get local area energy planning absolutely embedded in what our planning system does. If we get those things done, I know none of those will happen immediately by 2025, but those are the long-term things, and I'm really pleased to hear you talk about the importance of political consensus.
Our members are from all political parties across England, Scotland and Wales. There is a political consensus on this. We need to build on that and not have a race to the bottom when people are attacking Net Zero. Instead, have an escalation to the top because people want to be more ambitious."
On the economic benefits highlighted by the Net Zero Review, Polly added:
"The case for the economic benefit of Net Zero is being made very clearly in the report. We know that if you invest £1 in mitigation, you save £9 in adaptation.
We've been very supportive of the PWC report, which identifies that if you — and this again goes to the local point — invest in locally designed Net Zero action, you get more bang for your buck than if you leave it, frankly, to the slightly distant levers of Whitehall.
"We know the slightly distant levers have all done an enormous amount of benefit in terms of offshore wind and so forth. But if you're talking about transforming homes street by street, local energy generation, so that’s smart grids and so forth. You're going to need to do it to meet the needs of a community. And the PWC report suggests that a cost of £58 billion will get you social benefits of up to £825 billion. But if you leave it to Whitehall, it costs £195 billion, and you only get £444 billion. So to save money, do it in local areas. And that gets you a greater economic benefit overall.
"And again, that goes to the point about public consent and support. People immediately will say; "what’s that going to do to my garden" or "are you going to have to fiddle with my loft?" or whatever. You need to be able to reassure people that this is going to be something that they're not necessarily going to show off their air source heat pump in the same way that they show off a new kitchen. I mean, very strange people do that. I know there'll be a lot of them in this room. I know, I know. I know. I've looked at them. I've got very excited, too, and tried to see how noisy they are actually as well. Not very.
"But those kind of things really make a difference. So I think we need to think about the macroeconomic benefits, and there is still a massive, massive job to be done in transforming the the overall national conversation about this. I think we all think that this case has been made by Nick Stern back in the day, and we keep saying it.
"But out there, people are sort of still saying, well, I know how much a gas boiler costs. Why shouldn't I get one of those? Because I know how it works and they will apply that that knowledge, that understanding of the world to the bigger strategic challenges.
"And we need to do things collectively. We need to do them in places, and we need to have strong signals from national government in order for those things to happen. So I think there's a lot in there about those economic benefits, but it can never be said often enough."
In conclusion, Polly emphasised the need for a whole system approach to local Net Zero:
"Most of the time the reasons they do the things they do is because the system demands that they do it. So it's absolutely that whole system approach. We've published our own report, Power Shift. We're going to do an update in a few weeks' time, which actually is a comprehensive overall analysis of what local powers they've got that local authorities can use to achieve Net Zero and the limitations of them. And I can name four organisations off the top of my head at national level which get in the way of local government being able to do this.
"There’s the National Planning Policy Framework. Ofgem, who are getting better, is turning the tank around. National Planning Inspectorate, which basically rips out anything that's a more ambitious standard in terms of sustainability for homes. And Highways England, which is really not interested in air quality or decarbonising transport. They just think more roads is the answer. I mean, we have got friends in those national and national institutions.
"But I would really like to see Graham Stuart, as the Minister, grip those organisations through the New Office of Net Zero Delivery, and get them to change their rules so that you can have a presumption in favour of Net Zero where it needs to happen. The whole system approach works in places.
"Basically, it works in places, and that's where you'll need to be able to join it up. So I think there's a lot again in the report that identifies those barriers, but we need to have a quite muscular, rapid transformation.
"I think the Net Zero Delivery Office also needs to happen alongside a beefed-up Net Zero Local Forum. The Forum exists, but it doesn't have that engagement with elected leaders who are making the decisions, and that would make the engagement between national and local much better."
- More information: Liam Ward, UK100, firstname.lastname@example.org +44 (0)7456 554103