APSE’s latest online Policy Seminar explored both the strategic environmental issues emerging from Government administrations across the UK, as well as the factors that will influence climate action at a frontline service level. APSE’s Communications Officer Matt Ellis reports back from the event.
Build Back Better. Seemingly ubiquitous the last few months, these three words are etched into the minds of anyone familiar with or connected to public policy. But what do the words actually mean? The snappy slogan – first used by the UN and now adopted by both the UK Government and the candidacy of Joseph Biden in the US Presidential election - is said to represent a commitment to job creation and inclusive economic growth that boosts rather than diminishes public health and the environment.
One can see why the slogan has been so readily embraced by 10 Downing Street. It can be said to reaffirm the Government’s commitment to the ‘levelling-up agenda’ so rigorously promoted by the Prime Minister during the course of the 2019 General Election. It can also be said to reaffirm the Government’s ambition - ‘moral responsibility in the words of Cabinet Minister Michael Gove - to lead a ‘global Green Industrial Revolution’. With the UK economy, and indeed the world economy, having been ravaged by the COVID crisis, now would seem the opportune time for the Government to pair an ambitious economic strategy with climate action.
Build Back Better was therefore a natural theme to centre APSE’s latest Climate Seminar around. The online event - sponsored by APSE Energy Approved Partner Beond Group - explored the practical actions councils can take (and have taken) to decarbonise our economy and forge a sustainable future for their local areas. We were delighted to be joined by elected councillors, leaders, local government managers, chief officers and heads of service from all across the UK for what was a lively discussion and excellent shared learning opportunity.
Big policy issues
Day One of the seminar opened with a session exploring the big policy issues. Kindly Chaired by APSE Strategic Forum Chair Cllr. Jacqui Burnett, the session’s first speaker was APSE Chief Executive Paul O’Brien. Paul reminded delegates that responding to the climate emergency is not just a single issue but is part of the much wider public policy jigsaw. As the steward of the local economy and leader of place, councils are critical to bringing these various pieces together. Citing examples from APSE’s report ‘So you’ve declared a climate emergency: what next?’, Paul looked at how local authorities have shown civic leadership and responded effectively to the crisis; from energy efficient buildings to more cycle routes and a big rise in electric vehicles.
Up next we were delighted to be joined by Nick Jackson of DEFRA’s Climate Change Adaptation Team who, like Paul, highlighted the range of activities being adapted by UK councils to mitigate their exposure to climate change. These include Kent County Council’s development of an adaptation catalyst tool to help with planning and Cornwall Council’s Climate Change Action Plan.
Our final speaker of the session was Louise Marix Evans, Advisor for the Committee on Climate Change. Louise explored areas where local level policy has a key role to play in delivering net zero. Louise also looked at what is needed from government including consistent net zero compliant policy co-ordination between all government departments and a stronger focus on carbon reduction in business cases and financial appraisal.
Public sector as an agent of change
With session two, delegates were informed of the ways the public sector can as an agent of change. Leader of City of York Council, Cllr. Keith Aspden, outlined how the ‘Capital of the North’ aims to create – via it’s Ten Year City Plan - an inclusive and green economy, with a people focused city centre. You can learn more about this ambitious strategy on page 10.
How can councils access the renewable supply contract market? Mike Chan of sponsor Beond Group was up next to discuss energy tendering and risk management. An APSE energy Approved Partner, Beond are a multi award-winning zero carbon energy software consultancy who specialise in energy procurement. You can learn more about how they can help your authority here.
Our final speaker of Day One - APSE’s Charlotte Banks - talked delegates through the work of APSE Energy in bringing UK councils together to work on the green energy agenda. Charlotte also gave special mention to APSE Training’s Carbon Literacy for the Frontline; a course designed to deepen understanding of the long-term threat of climate change. You can learn more about this course on page 33.
Environment and place
Chaired by APSE National Chair Cllr. Mark Pengelly, day two opened with a keynote address from Patrick Allcorn, Head of Local Energy, Department for Business Enterprise and Industrial Strategy. According to Patrick, what he finds missing in a lot of local action plans is a failure to embed net zero across all frontline services. Patrick also highlighted the support available to councils from BEIS such as ERIS and Ongen.
Up next we had Veronica Formosa-Hamilton, Waste Disposal Team Leader at Stirling Council, to discuss the progress of the zero waste Scotland approach and how Stirling Council has adopted and adapted waste disposal and climate change initiatives.
Echoing the City of York’s Ten Year Plan, Graham Grant, Head of Transport at Newcastle City Council, talked embedding air quality improvements in a post-COVID city centre. By planning for pedestrians and cyclists, the Council wants to create a greener, cleaner and more prosperous Newcastle.
Blue Green Infrastructure
Blue Green Infrastructure was the topic of final session of the seminar. Tim Ferrero, Senior Specialist in Marine Conservation at the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, discussed the role of the Wildlife Trust marine conservation team and how councils can help the Trust protect our precious marine environment.
What can we expect in climate change terms for water and flood management? Our penultimate speaker, Jenny Barlow, Flood Risk Management Advisor at the Environment Agency Yorkshire and North East, outlined flood prevention strategies in place across the region. Such strategies include Leeds’ Flood Alleviation Scheme catchment-based programme and Calderdale’s ‘Slow the Flow’.
Our final speaker - Tony Da Silva, Landscape Restoration Officer at the Lancashire Wildlife Trust - discussed how the Trust is encouraging public action and participation on green infrastructure, and helping communities develop a greater understanding of nature and rewilding.
Put councils at the heart of building back better
This seminar offered a stark reminder to the Government that rolling back environmental protections is not an option when it comes to the post-COVID recovery. The shock of the pandemic as well as more frequent extreme weather events has meant a diminshingly small number of policy-makers now see sustainability as a zero-sum game: more jobs and higher economic growth should not entail weaker environmental standards, and vice versa. Instead infrastructure led-growth that is green and involves local decision-makers can create prosperity, a healthier environment and a more resilient economy.
Recent months have demonstrated that, when faced with a global crisis, local government cannot afford to be sidelined; it has to play a key role in developing and co-ordinating local responses. The pandemic has brought devastation to millions. Catastrophic climate change will bring devastation to billions. It’s time our decision-makers heeded the lessons of the former to prevent the chaos of the latter.