Government turns from maximisation to minimisation
In October 2010, the energy and climate change minister, Greg Barker, formally invited me to chair a new advisory Forum. It was to be one of four reporting directly to him.
Over the next two years before launch, each was concerned with the development of different aspects of the new Government’s flagship policy. Our declared overall objective was to deliver “an ambitious programme to increase the energy efficiency of the UK building stock. In particular, we expect it to contribute to a 29 per cent reduction in carbon emissions from our homes and 13 per cent from non-domestic properties by 2020.”
We were christened the Green Deal Maximisation Forum. Our job was to work with Government to come up with measures to boost uptake levels.
Twenty two member organisations were nominated in Hansard. From the start, we divided the issues to be addressed into “vertical” streams, creating task-groups covering four different building categories.
The Forum’s life was extended twice by the Minister – way beyond the October 2012 date when the Green Deal scheme was launched, and he dissolved the other three sister Fora. By mutual agreement, our Forum finally came to an end only last month, by which time previously assiduous participants were regularly voting with their feet, and staying away.
Across the 42 months of existence, we held twenty plenary meetings, and no less than 59 task-group meetings. These task-groups covered owner-occupied housing; the private rented sector; social housing; and non-residential buildings. Membership of task-groups was extended to cover external participants.
The secretariat for all meetings was provided by the excellent Energy Efficiency Partnership for Buildings between 2010 and 2013 – apart from for the non-residential buildings task-group, where it was undertaken by a member organisation, the British Property Federation. In our final year of operation from April 2013, DECC provided the secretariat for plenary meetings, but all task-groups had to be abandoned.
Conspicuous by absence
For the initial years, entire meetings were regularly attended by officials from BIS, DCLG, the Scottish Executive as well as several from DECC. By the end, other departments became conspicuous for their absence.
In his open formal letter, sent last month to members recording his thanks, Greg Barker listed certain specific areas upon which the Forum had worked. This enables me to record that among the acknowledged highlights of our activities were:
a) In Spring 2011 running up to the Budget, a Forum paper on stamp duty incentives was the subject of three lengthy meetings including the then Financial Secretary with a view to inclusion in Budget 2011; in the end, the commitment was to introduce new incentives prior to launch to encourage participation in the Green Deal. This then became the £205m funding for equipment, with £140m monies allocated to cashbacks. Last year the Minister praised the Forum’s work in proposing cashbacks when reappointing us for 2013/4.
b) The Forum was appointed in 2011 by DCLG to provide the core of its formal task-group for changes to Building Regulations Part L, asked to consider how the Green Deal could best be integrated to improve existing buildings. Resultant recommendations on “consequential improvements” were incorporated into the official consultation document, which received 82 per cent endorsement from participants. DCLG estimated this would deliver 2.2m Green Deals. In the end, the policy was scrapped in December 2012, following a campaign of misrepresentation (“conservatory tax”) by the Daily Mail.
c) The Forum consistently backed the concept of creating a nationwide interlinked network of open houses, enabling visitors to view refurbishment successes in existing homes in different neighbourhoods.
d) Each of the task-groups produced a series of different reports outlining solutions pertinent to their remit. Details from these are acknowledged by the Minister to have now been integrated into existing policy, not least in the private rented sector.
e) On the non-residential side, a comprehensive and authoritative report was prepared in 2011/2, setting out how the Green Deal could operate effectively, both for larger corporates as well as SMEs. Shortly after its presentation to the Minister in March 2012, that task-group was effectively disbanded, as there was no willingness by government to take this agenda forwards. It is interesting to note that this topic was on the agenda of DECC’s latest Green Deal Advisory Group in April 2014 – when it was again effectively parked.
Creating such an ambitious advisory Forum was a well-conceived initiative, with which the vast majority of those nominated continued to be surprisingly heavily engaged with and committed to right up to, and even including, its final year. However, the decision to remove any independent secretarial support, even for the plenary let alone the task-groups, depressed expectations – as has the clear failure of the policy to date.
With still under 1,500 Green Deal Finance packages signed after 18 months of existence, the initiative has ceased being about achieving whole house retrofits of 14m homes within the decade – the initial Ministerial remit – and more about developing a niche programme. In truth, it is dubious as to whether in the context of Green Deal Finance, the word “maximisation” can be perceived now as other than derisory.
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