More support for energy efficiency measures needed, sector reacts to the Spring Budget

More support for energy efficiency measures needed, sector reacts to the Spring Budget

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt unveiled his Spring Budget on Wednesday. His announcement included extending action to support people with high energy bills and further levelling up and regeneration funding, but was it ambitious enough, or did it miss the mark? Here we share opinion from across the sector.

Good to see Chancellor act on council calls for funding
Responding to the Budget, Cllr James Jamieson, Chairman of the Local Government Association, which represents more than 350 councils across England and Wales, said: “It is good that the Chancellor has acted on council calls for funding and measures to widen employment support, improve local roads, protect swimming pools from rising costs and funding for vital regeneration efforts. Lower borrowing rates for councils will also provide a boost for vital council housebuilding projects.

“A third round of levelling up funding will give councils the opportunity to forge ahead with ambitious plans to transform their communities and unlock potential for more local growth. However, we remain clear that levelling up should be locally led by evidence of where crucial investment needs to go to, not based on costly competitive bids between areas.

“Given this is a ‘back-to-work’ Budget, it is disappointing there is no further investment in adult social care, public health and children’s services, which all play a vital role in supporting economic growth and helping people back into work, alongside boosting people’s health and wellbeing.

“We are pleased the Government has acted on our calls for investment in early years education and childcare. Councils have a duty to ensure sufficiency of local provision and so will need to be given a key role in making sure they succeed. Delivering on the announcements will also require significant investment into the workforce and early years’ facilities.

“Every local economy is different, and people can find themselves ‘economically inactive’ for different reasons. With control over fragmented and disjointed national employment and skills funding and schemes, councils could build on their track record of helping get people back into the workplace — including those who are furthest from the jobs market — and plugging growing skills gaps.

“We want to work with government on a long-term funding plan which ensures councils have adequate resources to deliver local services for our communities. Alongside sustainable long-term investment in local services, bringing power and resources closer to people is also key to improving lives and building inclusive growth across the country, and many more places are ambitious to follow in the footsteps of the devolution trailblazers which are a positive step towards more local decision making.”

National Housing Federation welcomes funding for regeneration, but says more investment needed to improve the quality and energy efficiency of the country’s homes
People on the lowest incomes in this country are being hit hardest by the rising cost of living and a worsening housing crisis. We are pleased to see that the Budget recognises the critical need for families to have further support with rising energy bills after April.

However, even with the Energy Price Guarantee in place, energy costs have doubled in the past year, and it is predicted this could force 7.5 million households into fuel poverty. We urge the Government to consider a social tariff for those on the lowest incomes in the longer term.

We have some of the oldest homes in Europe and many towns and cities across the country are in need of serious investment. The £750m of regeneration funding is welcome, but more investment could be targeted at improving the quality and energy efficiency of the country’s homes, which would contribute to both energy security and achieving our net zero goals, as well as helping to level up left behind communities.

We also look forward to hearing more detail about the proposed Investment Zones, and we want to work with the government to ensure that building affordable homes is central to creating prosperous communities.

Following the devolution deals with Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, we look forward to working closely with these areas to ensure we are building the affordable homes that are needed for local communities. We also welcome further funding towards homes for veterans, which will help housing associations provide specialist homes and support.

Chartered Institute of Housing welcomes action to support people with high energy bills, but wants to see more support for energy efficiency measures
Responding to Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt’s Spring Budget statement, Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) Chief Executive, Gavin Smart said: “We’re pleased to see the Government taking action to support people with high energy bills, by bringing charges for pre-payment meters in line with direct debit customers and extending the current Energy Price Guarantee at the current rate for a further three months. CIH called for this as part of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition. We would however have liked to see more support for energy efficiency measures, helping to tackle some of the root causes of current energy pressures.

“Housing was notable by its absence. We are disappointed that the Chancellor did not use this opportunity to restore local housing allowance to the 30th percentile, as we and others had called for. The decision to leave rates frozen at 2020 levels means the affordability gap for private renters will continue to grow, resulting in increased evictions and homelessness. We would urge government to urgently look again at this, particularly given its commitments on homelessness prevention.

“We note that various changes were announced on welfare. We await the details in this in the forthcoming White Paper and will provide further briefing for members on Budget announcements over the coming days.”

A welcome statement of intent that misses its mark, says UK100
Responding to the Spring Budget, the UK100 cross-party network of local authorities welcomes the short-term energy bill relief but reiterates its call for a long-term solution, targeted at the most vulnerable. Highlighting the network’s recent “End the wait. Insulate.” report, UK100’s Interim Chief Executive, Jason Torrance, said: “The Chancellor’s focus on energy security, energy bill support and devolution is a welcome statement of intent — but we’re worried the measures themselves miss the mark.

“Extending the Energy Price Guarantee for a further three months offers consumers a vital but brief reprieve from sky-high energy bills. However, Jeremy Hunt has let slip another golden opportunity to embrace a targeted, long-term solution.

“For too long, the Government has overlooked the importance of energy efficiency. Our End the wait. Insulate. report sets out an oven-ready, cost-neutral plan for a local-led energy efficiency drive to alleviate pressure on the most vulnerable – and it won’t cost the earth.

“Noting the lack of renewable energy support in the Chancellor’s £20bn energy security announcement, which focuses on nuclear power and carbon capture. Jason continued: “At the same time, the Chancellor’s energy security plans ignore the cheapest and quickest way to boost UK energy production while accelerating Net Zero action; investment in renewables, including making good on the promise to lift the de facto ban on onshore wind.”

Jason concludes by welcoming the “beefed up,” multi-year devolution settlements for Greater Manchester and the West Midlands and support for investment zones: “Finally, the move to shift control from Whitehall to regional mayors should be celebrated as a big step in the right direction — but we need to see more detail. The same with investment zones.

The announcement has a huge potential to unlock the power of local. But it mustn’t come at the expense of vital environmental and climate protections. To ensure the UK can fulfil its Net Zero goals, local and regional leaders need the power — and resources — to take the lead on ensuring their residents’ homes are warm and comfortable and shaping local energy networks to be more responsive to community needs.”

‘More ambitious action needed’ — London Councils highlights homelessness concerns in response to Budget 2023
Responding to the Budget, London Councils has warned “more ambitious action” will be needed to tackle the capital’s worsening homelessness crisis.

In the face of on-going cost-of-living pressures and rising homelessness numbers, boroughs had urged the Chancellor to raise Local Housing Allowance rates to support low-income households pay their rent and avoid homelessness.

Boroughs had also hoped to see more measures to help increase delivery of affordable housing. In particular, boroughs are seeking an end to the Treasury’s restrictions over Right to Buy sales receipts, arguing that complete flexibility would ensure every penny raised from council house sales can be reinvested in building replacement homes.

Figures released by London Councils show one in 23 children in the capital are homeless. London Councils estimates there to be 166,000 homeless Londoners – including 81,000 children – living in temporary accommodation arranged by their local borough.

According to London Councils’ analysis, boroughs in the capital need to make around £100m of savings in their budgets this year, which they warn risks undermining their ability to tackle homelessness, promote inclusive economic growth, help deliver net zero, and other key priorities for Londoners.

With the Budget confirming 12 new investment zones all outside London and new devolution deals for Greater Manchester and the West Midlands including medium-term funding settlements, London Councils has reiterated that bolder devolution is also required in the capital.

Boroughs want more decision-making powers and resources to be devolved to them as they are closest to local communities, arguing this is vital for addressing London’s immense social and economic challenges with innovative solutions.

Cllr Georgia Gould, Chair of London Councils, said: “More ambitious action is still needed for tackling the worsening homelessness crisis. Our latest figures show at least one child in every classroom in London is homeless. There are 81,000 children in temporary accommodation across the capital, worrying about where their family is going to live.

“We had hoped to see the Chancellor announce a rise in the Local Housing Allowance, which would go a long way to making housing more affordable for low-income Londoners. We also need much more support for building the affordable homes that our communities desperately need.

“Further devolution to the capital is vital. Boroughs would be in a much better position to tackle many of London’s longstanding challenges if we could take the lead on policy decisions and direct resources for investing in services.

“Boroughs remain as committed as ever to working with the government on these issues and in securing a fairer, more prosperous, and more sustainable future for London that delivers for our residents and for the UK economy.”

Concern over impact on reduction in local spending on regeneration plans
Mark Robinson, Group Chief Executive at SCAPE, one of the UK’s leading public sector procurement authorities, said:   “Limitations to public sector spending from the Chancellor were to be expected, with local authorities being told to strengthen their existing budgets and, in some cases, manage real-term cuts.

“Public sector investment in infrastructure has been a major driver of growth and community change post-Covid, and the concern is that any long-term reduction in local spending has the potential to limit the positive effects of ongoing regeneration plans.

“To this end, the further devolution of powers to the combined authorities in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands is a significant takeaway for the construction industry. Having greater say over local transport, skills and housing will ultimately lead to more focused spending, which can only benefit investment in local communities — be that infrastructure-led or otherwise. We hope this sets a precedent to be swiftly followed in future Budgets.”

Continued commitment to delivering high-quality infrastructure a welcome step
Stephen Beechey, Group Public Sector Director at Wates Group, commented: “We welcome the Chancellor’s Spring Budget. As a long-term partner of government, we are pleased to see the continued commitment to delivering high-quality infrastructure and the promise of an updated National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline. This is a welcome step in the right direction — but the Government must give urgent consideration to putting in place a pipeline that looks three to five years ahead. Taking this step would give industry the certainty it needs to make long-term decisions in important areas including investment, hiring and training — all of which will drive economic growth.

“We further welcome the Chancellor’s new Levelling Up partnerships. Giving people pride of place in their area is vital to meeting the Levelling Up Agenda — we are already doing work in this important space and look forward to continuing to support the Government’s vision.

“Delivering Net Zero must remain a central part of the agenda and we would encourage the Government to be more ambitious when it comes to driving forward the decarbonisation of Government, commercial and residential buildings across the UK.”

Energy efficiency remains a missing piece of the green economy puzzle
Simon McWhirter, Director of External Affairs & Deputy Chief Executive at UKGBC said: “We welcome the Government’s Energy Efficiency Taskforce and £600m extension of energy-saving tax relief, but this falls short of the scale of investment needed. Energy efficiency remains a key missing piece of the green economy puzzle.

“The scale of our climate emergency requires investment of at least £6bn a year to comprehensively upgrade home energy efficiency across the UK, supported by more creative solutions like an energy-saving stamp duty incentive. These measures would slash energy bills, create 500,000 skilled jobs, and save the NHS £1.4bn every year.

“It is encouraging that the Government’s new Investment Zones must support the UK’s path to net zero, climate resilience and natural recovery goals. It will be crucial that these Zones meet robust environmental standards.

“UKGBC members across the UK continue to set an ambitious pace for transforming their business models for net zero carbon growth — the Government must use its forthcoming response to Mission Zero and the updated Net Zero Strategy to set out a detailed and credible delivery plan to achieve net zero by 2050.”

Investment and focus on levelling up the country welcome says Stantec, but there needs to be a long-term emphasis placed on developing traditionally challenged areas
Reacting to details on the economy and the future of levelling up, Stephen Cox, Director of Economics and Regeneration commented: “It was positive to hear from the Chancellor that the UK is expected to avoid a recession in 2023, and the easing of inflationary pressures should make the delivery of public sector grant funded projects more achievable.

“It is important to see more responsibilities being handed to local leaders as well as vital economic decisions being made at a local level. While we welcome the investment and focus on levelling up the country, there needs to be a long-term emphasis placed on developing traditionally challenged areas, through strategic economic restructuring. This means concerted and continued investment in these communities. We would welcome further detail around these policies.

“Given our experience supporting the development of research, education, and innovation projects across the UK, we know these innovation clusters could have an incredible impact on the communities they serve. Case-making and maximising the most promising schemes will be crucial for local authorities over the next period.”

Planning Director, Iain Painting, also shared his views on the implications from the Spring Budget around the new Investment Zones, and said: “The optimistic tone of the Chancellor’s “Budget for growth” was welcome, but beyond the top-line ambitions it missed a lot of the detail we would like to see, including on wider planning reform. The lack of clarity from past governments on how to tackle the longstanding issues in the planning system has often caused market uncertainty, and this still needs addressing. Nonetheless, we are seeing more clearly how Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt’s administration will approach devolution and levelling-up — and the more focused and strategic method is a good sign.

“Investment zones have been scaled back from their origin under Liz Truss and will now aim to create 12 innovation clusters around key UK universities and research institutes – taking advantage of Britain’s leading role in the life sciences sector to draw investment to regional hubs. This is a positive hark back to enterprise zones — with an opportunity to go further and to refine and improve how zones like these will work.

“This targeting of certain areas will increase the chance of this policy making a real impact, especially when combined with the radical devolution of responsibilities to mayoral authorities — covering significant regeneration, infrastructure, and housing powers.  Strategic planning must still sit at the heart of this, and we should resist any broad-brush planning deregulation that has been mooted for these zones.

“We have a chance for local regions to bring together housing, health, education and skills, infrastructure, and investment policy in a targeted way.  This has the potential to provide certainty and a platform for investment and collaboration between communities, government, and enterprise.”

David Bowers, Director of Transport Planning at Stantec, spoke on the second round of funding for City Region Sustainable Transport Settlements (CRSTS). David said: “Travel continues to evolve following the pandemic and city regions need to respond to the changing requirements from residents and workers, while also navigating climate change.

“The Government’s CRSTS have provided a way for England’s major urban areas to respond to these challenges over the next 4-5 years, and we have been heavily involved in developing schemes and assessing their impacts. The funding announced for this area will help communities plan delivery of transport schemes in the long-term — which is important given the time it can take to move a scheme from design to delivery. The changes to the delivery of HS2 and the roads programme will also likely have an impact on the delivery of transport infrastructure over the coming years.”

Kicking the can down the street?
Ollie Gray, business Development Director at Charis said: “While we support these moves, there is a sense that we are kicking the can down the street. As we approach the warmer, lighter months, householders can leave the lights off for longer, switch off the central heating and hang the laundry to dry outside rather than using a dryer — but come the autumn, our bills may rise even higher than they have been this winter.

“Organisations such as Charis, the Fuel Bank Foundation and National Energy Action have long been advocating the implementation of a universal social tariff to be applied to the most vulnerable households across the UK — a tariff which can be subsidised by sharing the additional burden across energy companies, government grants and wealthier households. A step towards this would be to widen the eligibility criteria for the Warm Home Discount.

“We are calling for the government, Ofgem and the energy suppliers to proactively work towards a more sustainable solution for protecting the most vulnerable. The cost to society over the last few months has been almost incalculable, not just financially but in terms of mental health as well, with increasing rates of anxiety and depression among those trapped in a cycle of poverty.

“Cold homes are also a burden on the NHS, not just affecting the physical health of those who have to live in cold homes but also those who are returning to cold homes after receiving hospital treatment, which is why Charis is in talks with several NHS trusts to set up an integrated care scheme to ensure patients have warm homes to return to.

“The last 18 months have shown how the volatility of what should be a fundamental human right — to live in a warm home — can negatively affect the economy and society as a whole. We must work towards a more sustainable, stable baseline for energy to reduce those rates of mental and physical health, support businesses, and remove the fear and uncertainty in households across the UK.

Investment Zones, nutrient neutrality and impact on housing
Nicola Gooch, Planning Partner at Irwin Mitchell said: “The Budget has set out yet another re-invention of ‘Investment Zones’, a policy that has been widely trailed over the last few days. The proposals are significantly scaled back, when compared to last year’s iteration of the policy, but would still provide additional investment and resources to 12 ‘investment zones’ across the UK including eight mayoral authorities in the Midlands and the North of England. The main purpose of the new Investment Zones, appears to be to act as incubators for new industries or start-ups — as they are largely centred on universities.

“We also have the promise of more funding for new infrastructure projects and regeneration schemes across the country, again in service of the Levelling-Up Agenda. We have also had promises of new levelling-up partnerships and greater devolution, with consultations promised on how best to give local authorities greater power and also — for the first time — to allow mayors outside of London to set the strategic direction of their own Affordable Housing Programmes. This is a long overdue acknowledgement that centrally set targets for affordable housing products, such as first homes, simply do not work for all parts of the country.

“The biggest news in the budget for planning, however, was not investment zones, but the promise of additional help in tackling nutrient neutrality issues throughout England and, in particular, to provide funding for local nutrient neutrality schemes. Whether local nutrient neutrality schemes will be able to help, will in part depend on how quickly councils are able to get them up and running — but given that the HBF estimates that nutrient neutrality rules are currently holding up the development of at least 120,000 new homes, anything that can help ease the  situation is to be welcomed — particularly as the proposals in LURB to force water companies to tackle pollution at source are not likely to become effective until 2030.”

It’s all a bit underwhelming really
Paul Wakefield, Partner and Planning Expert at Shakespeare Martineau, said: “It’s all a bit underwhelming really. From a planning perspective, the Chancellor has teased rather than committed to wholescale changes. Investment in life sciences and advanced manufacturing in the Oxford-Cambridge corridor is welcome, but the Budget states that further details will be provided in due course once the revised National Planning Policy Framework is published later this year. Equally, further support to ensure nutrient neutrality obligations can be efficiently delivered will be welcomed, but again this is linked to a promised future call for evidence from LPAs by DLUHC.

“Perhaps the most significant part is the move away from Local Enterprise Partnerships, with funding support to be withdrawn and redirected towards local government (although again this is a promise to consult on these changes, rather than a cast iron guarantee that such changes will occur). Ultimately the Chancellor promises jam (or at least change) tomorrow rather than anything immediate.”

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