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Blog Post 22 January 2024 Updated 18 June 2024

Helping local councils tackle the climate emergency with UK100

As part of our work with local authorities, we’ve joined UK100’s Business Supporters Network. In our interview with its CEO, Christopher Hammond, we explore the challenges and opportunities for local authorities to meet their sustainability goals.

We know that local authorities are vital in delivering climate action. By working in their communities and with central government, local authorities play a crucial part in the roll out of retrofit and sustainable transport initiatives on the ground.  

That’s why we’ve joined UK100’s Business Supporters Network. UK100 is a network of over 100 local authority representatives from around the UK. Members have pledged to lead a rapid transition to net zero with clean air in their communities, ahead of the government’s legal target. 

We’re pleased to be working with UK100 to provide support and thought leadership to its members. We share the goals of realising a brighter energy future and delivering a just energy transition for UK communities.

Interview with UK100 CEO Christopher Hammond

We recently met with Christopher Hammond, CEO of UK100. After serving as the elected leader of Southampton City Council, Hammond joined UK100 in June 2021. Since then, he has launched the Climate Leadership Academy and Local Power in Action programmes. 

In our interview, Hammond explains how local authorities can be supported to achieve their sustainability targets. He also shares his views on the policy and narrative changes needed to localise action while aligning with the UK’s net zero ambitions.

Quote from UK100 CEO Christopher Hammond: "We need greater devolution to empower leaders to go further and faster."

What are the key areas of focus for your local authority members?

It’s a challenging time in local government. We have 110 leaders across the country, ambitious to tackle climate change and get to net zero. However, they are dealing with a complex financial system, which is not always balanced in their favour. Our government in Westminster is one of the most centralised in the Western world. This limits local authorities’ abilities to plan long-term. 

We need greater devolution to empower leaders to go further and faster. We need to think about how we can devolve money down, while freeing them in an administrative sense to help them meet their duties. 

What are the main challenges from an operational perspective?

A lot of councils have navigated through austerity with efficiency measures, but also borrowing to build and invest quite cheaply. That lever is increasingly difficult to pull with local authorities dealing with inflationary and cost of living pressures, alongside their own income reducing after the pandemic. Tackling the climate crisis requires 20 to 30-year horizons needed for projects like retrofit and transport changes, but local authorities are managing efforts with one-year funding pots. Many are struggling to maintain basic services and legal duties, making the delivery of decarbonisation strategies and future-oriented plans difficult to achieve. While councils are grappling with these challenges, all have remained committed to their climate targets.

How are some of these challenges being overcome?

The Climate Change Committee estimates that around 80% of government strategies, and 80% of emissions, can be influenced by local government. With support from funding schemes, addressing areas in the greatest need, and pilot schemes, fulfilling gaps in knowledge and skill, local governments could tackle net zero with autonomy, capacity and leadership. 

For example, councils are responsible for buildings, whether corporate buildings or housing stock and a transport authority for the roads that they have in their area. They have interventions they can make to decarbonise these areas. Councils usually have their own fleets. As a local authority, they can green those by converting to EVs or alternative fuel vehicles. It’s about building confidence and collaboration within local leadership to faster achieve those net zero goals.  

What does collaboration look like at a local level?

It’s about towns and cities, even whole regions, working together. Confidence in the long-term is important, creating a pipeline to build skills – using private investment and further education to meet demand, for example, in retrofit projects. 

Net zero is local. It must be. There are around 330 upper-tier or circa upper UK authorities. They are perfect net zero delivery vehicles. We need them to keep working together, asking how local ambition can make a global contribution. Individual actions within local councils will make the difference, not the big infrastructure projects which invariably run over time and budget. 

Of course, it will be difficult to pick, but who is doing it well now?

We have 110 members, and they are all doing wonderful things in their own way. I think Andy Burnham as mayor of Greater Manchester is really inhabiting that role. We see Manchester being approached as a region, not just a city. That’s compelling to the government.  

Then there’s Andy Street, another big metro mayor working towards the opportunities of a new green industrial revolution happening in the West Midlands, building ground-up metropolitan programmes, working with multiple councils to deliver net zero action.  

At a district level, Oxford’s Zero Carbon Partnership is impressive. Various employers, such as the NHS, or Mini and BMW are working to deliver cross-skilling using their own capacity and capabilities, as well as bringing in the university.  

As leader of Southampton City Council, we involved 80 of the biggest employers in the city to agree to 10 commitments to net zero, our Green City Charter. Southampton University tracked the impact. Clearly, bringing in universities to share resources and knowledge is key to this transition.

How important is it to get local communities on board?

Really important. It’s about creating the most compelling vision. Benefits of the transition need to be relevant. Net zero action centres on framing the story around how we all benefit from it. 

Systems change is about people. Without robust public engagement and the public shaping those decisions, it’s going to be a recipe for pushback, for misinformation. These are the kinds of challenges that can lead to people feeling that it’s not for them. This starts with confident leadership at a council level.

Quote from UK100 CEO Christopher Hammond: "Net Zero action centres around framing the story of how we all gain from this momentum."

You’ve identified transport as a priority, tell us more.

Everyone has a personal relationship with how they travel. So, to remodel our communities to create better spaces and ways of transport, communication with residents surrounding these interventions must be done transparently and accessibly. 

For example, the 10-year report that Nottingham published shows it has transformed the transport infrastructure. It is one of the fastest growing house pricing locations in the country. One of the main selling points is that it’s easy to get about. They’ve got it right. 

With significant transportation change, there’s commonly pushback making it difficult to carry out politically. With a clear avenue of communication and engagement with residents, these interventions can prove popular and effective. 

How important is retrofitting our homes?

We’ve got some of the leakiest homes in Europe and around the world. We need to get better at building new homes, so that they’re net zero and cheap to run. And we need to start retrofitting our existing homes at scale, so people aren’t making decisions around whether they’re heating or eating. 

Let’s retrofit our homes to a good standard and use our resources as best we can to make it a long-term, national mission. Rather than stop-start policy interventions, we’re working collaboratively to make sure retrofitting is advanced at the pace and the scale needed. We need to be retrofitting in the millions, not tens of thousands. 

Quote from UK100 CEO Christopher Hammond: "We need to be retrofitting in the millions, not tens of thousands."

You mention the private sector’s role, what about public private partnerships?

Most local authorities don’t have the technical expertise or capacity to do everything to achieve net zero themselves. Partnerships need to be a genuine collaboration, one which creates social value. The private sector needs to come forward with that social value aspect, as well as asking, “What materials are you using? What’s your closed loop recycling system?” 

It should be, “Can we create local jobs? Can an apprentice do it? Can we create local value, where money is distributed fairly?” In return, you’ll get more certainty, a pipeline, funding and line of sight of the future. 

What’s the other key areas of focus to drive net zero?

Essential policy reforms must provide certainty around long-term financing and flexibility around setting standards and guiding investments. The success of the Local Authority Delivery arm of the government and Green Homes Grant has rapidly improved housing stock energy efficiency. Local leaders hope to see programmes such as this expanded with sustained support focusing on social housing retrofit. 

In the UK100’s energy efficiency report, End the Wait. Insulate, it’s estimated that through reforms to the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, local leaders could unlock £2.7 billion of investment to upgrade 180,000 homes by 2025 while supporting 20,000 jobs nationwide. Beyond alleviating hardship for lower-income tenants, this would kickstart wider housing efficiency efforts by boosting local supply chains. 

We’re also focusing on transport as well as working to retrofit homes. Rather than stop-start policy interventions, we’re working collaboratively to make sure retrofitting is advanced at the pace and the scale needed. We need to be retrofitting in the millions, not tens of thousands. By including residents in a transparent conversation surrounding transport, positive changes can be made. 

What are the other concerns you have outside of purely delivering projects?

The growing disinformation in local government is a worrying trend. This needs to be tackled collectively, not just brushed off – whether on social media or in the real world, including serious trolling and sometimes direct threats to politicians, it can affect politicians’ will to engage with innovative interventions. 

It is something to keep a watching brief on. As the political temperature gets turned up, you’ll see more of that. Working with trusted voices like Energy Saving Trust will really help to combat some of those issues as they arise. 

Do you have any final thoughts to share on the barriers and drivers to net zero in the industry?

Restrictive funding, lack of local empowerment, and public misinformation remain barriers that must be acknowledged. However, local authorities have influence over more than 80% of UK emissions – that means achieving our national climate goals relies on empowered local authorities.  

With deep roots in their communities, local leaders can harness local strengths that deliver net zero, alongside improving people’s lives and their livelihoods. With UK100 supporting knowledge sharing between its members nationwide, there’s vast potential for continued innovation. 

While national mandates set vital direction, lasting progress depends on local action. Target dates focus minds and empowered local leaders understand socio-economic priorities, building trust and enabling fair transitions to improve lives. It’s those closest to communities that understand priorities and can push stakeholders effectively towards net zero. 

Are you a local authority? Find out how we can support you

At Energy Saving Trust, we understand the challenges faced by local authorities. Our local government support programme helps local authorities to decarbonise transport, improve air quality and increase electric vehicle adoption. Funded by the Department for Transport, this support is free to all local authorities in England. Learn more about the local government support programme.

We’re also helping local authorities to deliver local electric vehicle infrastructure through the UK government funded on-street residential chargepoint scheme and the local electric vehicle infrastructure fund in England.

Last updated: 18 June 2024