Friday 27 January 2012
With recent announcements on feed in tariffs for solar photovoltaics creating such controversy, many could have been forgiven for believing the opportunity for local government to deliver local growth through its response to climate change had gone. From what I have seen in councils around the country, this is far from the case. However, the reduction in tarrifs does create an opportunity to reappraise what strategy authorities should pursue in a rapidly changing environment.
It could be said that there has been an over emphasis on renewables to the detriment of energy efficiency measures of late. Indeed, it has been a bit like investing in larger size clothing to tackle an expanding waistline rather than focusing on the fundamental problem of over consumption.
In the current financial climate nobody needs to apologise for building their previous strategy around pursuing feed in tariffs, renewable obligations certificates or the renewable heat incentive to fund an overall approach to tackling climate change. However, I predict a rebalancing of strategy brought about by a shifting Government emphasis towards energy efficiency measures signalled by Green Deal. Significant opportunities exist for local authorities in this area and, as with the feed in tarrifs, councils that move first will get the most benefit, while those that dawdle may fall victim to funds running out further down the line.
One authority that has been at the forefront of strategy development on environmental sustainability over the past decade is Nottingham City Council and there will be very few in local government who are not familiar with the Nottingham Declaration. An ambitious plan has been developed aimed at providing 20% of the city’s energy through renewable and low carbon sources by 2020; the rate is 11.5% already.
I was therefore interested to hear the authority’s plans for Green Deal. It is looking to become a Green Deal provider and targeting an £80m investment with potential benefit for 12,900 properties across the city. This should generate £13m of annual savings with a payback period of 20 years.
Combine this with recent investment in solar and the 8,000 jobs that are predicted from the imminent expansion of the city’s tram system and you can see very quickly how an economic growth strategy built around energy efficiency and the development of renewable energy schemes adds up.
APSE's view is that at a time when local government is once again being looked at as a vehicle for creating local economic growth it would be surprising if the opportunities that the green economy creates were not near the top of the list for politicians and strategists alike.
Friday 13 January 2012
If local government thought 2011 was tough, 2012 may be about to get a whole lot tougher. With an estimated 145,000 job losses in councils over the previous 12 months, some may have thought the heavy lifting had been done. However, my fear is that whilst many have made significant progress in efficiency programmes, this may prove difficult to sustain – and the knock-on effect for councils that didn’t quite get there in year one could be catastrophic. With ongoing redundancies, wage freezes, rising pension payments and inflation remaining relatively high, morale will be near the floor.
Local government will be asked to question its very role as a place shaper as it struggles to cope with social problems created by unemployment, crime and disenfranchisement. Paradoxically, in the midst of this it will continue to be asked to retrench in terms of service delivery, whilst localising and fragmenting provision. Towards the end of the year Ministers will begin more ‘guided localism’.
Further changes in political control will take place at May local elections as the four yearly cycle comes around again and Labour moves away from its historic low of 2008. This could play out differently in Scotland as the SNP’s popularity continues.
The future will remain bleak as on-going economic problems in Europe feeds through as further pressure on public finances from national government level.
Friday 06 January 2012
APSE’s first strategic forum of the New Year took place last night on the theme of energy efficiency in asset management. Guest speaker was David Kilduff, Head of the Commercial Group at Walker Morris Solicitors, who gave an overview of the issues facing local government in this area.
These events are used as an opportunity to develop policy and share knowledge.
David spoke about the opportunity to examine the corporate assets of the council to identify environmental and actual financial savings through better utilisation of property, procurement and behavioural change. Energy price inflation and energy security are also significant headaches for local authorities.
Prior to Christmas Local Government Minister Eric Pickles touched on the potential savings from better management of local government’s £250B property portfolio, suggesting that £7B savings could be achieved from reduced property use and £8B from enhanced productivity through better space utilisation.
David identified that you need political leadership with a vision for the area, you need sound advice in developing your strategy, a business plan of what you aim to achieve and the implementation skills to deliver. You also need to audit what natural resources and assets you have in your locality. In a time of austerity it’s an opportunity to make an economic case for growth not just an environmental case for change.
A wide ranging discussion took place around using pensions funds to invest in the green agenda, whether recent announcements on feed in tariffs represented a shift in government policy from renewables to energy efficiency, whether it was practical to take a cross public sector approach in this area, lack of public awareness of green deal and how you go about rebalancing property portfolios when your estate is heavily occupied at present.
The meeting closed with agreement that as legislation bites and belts tighten this will become an area of ever increasing importance for local government.