I have noticed lately that Councils are starting to suggest that their net zero targets are going to be difficult to meet. At the same time, they express a determination to press on with them, while steep cuts are often made to their budgets relating to important local services.
This morning, I spotted a piece on the BBC website with the headline “Lincoln Council warned going green will be costly”. We learn:
A senior City of Lincoln councillor has admitted hitting its carbon net zero target by 2030 would be difficult due to the poor financial situation.
Councillor Bob Bushell (Labour) faced questions on whether the council was still on track to reach this goal.
Mr Bushell maintained he was confident of the council’s success – but warned it would be expensive.
Faced with this information, I thought I would dig a bit deeper regarding what is going on in Lincoln. The easiest piece of information to find (because the BBC helpfully provided a link to it) is that Lincoln Council has a 32 page “Decarbonisation Strategy and Action Plan Responding to the Climate Emergency 2021-2030”. I would have thought that the most important part of any action plan would be detailed costings, but I searched this plan for those in vain. There are lots of tables with column headings such as “Priority objective”, “actions”, “measure”, “target”, “RAG” (an unexplained acronym), and “responsible service area” . But no costings. Still, at least we do know – courtesy of Councillor Bushell – that it will be expensive.
Meanwhile, the website of the Lincolnite tells us that the Council is facing a £1 million budget shortfall, and that it is looking at “all options”. My money’s on “net zero” plans being at the end of the line for cuts. Curiosly, given that housing insulation is part of the Council’s decarbonisation plan, we also learn that there has been a “‘Tenfold’ increase in Lincoln council mould reports” since the reporting of the tragic death in Rochdale of a two year old boy due to exposure to mould. The Council has set up a new team to handle the surge in calls from residents, while the numbers of calls continue to grow. Poor-quality insulation can, of course, worsen such problems.
The Guardian has also recently reported on the shambles that is Thurrock Council. While Lincoln Council is Labour-run, Thurrock is Conservative-controlled. These days, of course, that makes little difference, since both parties are equally inept, and both seem to be equally committed to net zero.
In fairness to Lincoln, however, Thurrock’s problems are on a wholly different scale:
The Tory-led Thurrock council, which is on the brink of bankruptcy after losing hundreds of millions of pounds on failed commercial investments, repeatedly ignored warnings from financial experts over the “unprecedented risks” it was taking with public money, it has emerged.
Those risks seem to have been varied and substantial, but perhaps the greatest of all was that “[t]hey included £655m invested in a solar farms company, Toucan Holdings 1, which went into administration this month.”
Needless to say, Thurrock Council declared a climate emergency on 23rd October 2019 and made a climate pledge for 2022:
Reducing emissions per job by 22% by 2022. Reducing emissions per resident by 15% by 2022. Reducing emissions per daily road movement by 15% by 2022.
Perhaps they would have done better to focus on the day job.
A little over a month ago, the Guardian was reporting “UK councils slashing services to meet £3.2bn budget shortfall”:
Libraries and children’s centres are closing and home pick-ups for young disabled people being cancelled as councils try to meet a £3.2bn budget shortfall next year…
…The trade union Unison collected data from 391 councils, compiled through freedom of information requests and financial statements, and found that almost nine in 10 have a predicted budget gap in the 2023/24 financial year.
We are told that Birmingham City Council shows the biggest budget shortfall (£80 million) next year. So I thought I’d see what they’ve been up to. Well, there’s this:
In 2019 Birmingham City Council set its own target for the city, aiming to achieve net zero by 2030. This ambitious target aims to speed up Birmingham’s transition to net zero and send a clear message about the council’s commitment to a sustainable future.
Birmingham City Council is investing £27 million to retrofit 300 homes.
By my maths, that’s £90,000 per home, which doesn’t sound like great value. Still, never mind:
Birmingham City Council Leader Cllr Ian Ward…said: “Retrofitting homes across Birmingham is of course a key part of our route to zero carbon emissions but also a huge opportunity to create green jobs and tackle fuel poverty across the city.
No doubt the show will go on, since:
On 11 June 2019 the council declared a climate emergency and made a commitment to reduce the city’s carbon emissions and limit the climate crisis. As part of this declaration, an ambitious target was set for ‘the council and city to become net zero carbon by 2030, or as soon as possible thereafter as a just transition allows’, going beyond the Government’s own net zero by 2050 target.
The hubris regarding these declarations is constant. In reality, no Council, any Council, even one covering a city as large as Birmingham, could “limit the climate crisis” (sic). Still, reality never seems to stop them.
Meanwhile, who could forget this?
Nottingham City Council cuts after energy firm loses millions
A council which is making £12.5m in cuts poured millions of pounds into a loss-making energy firm, a report has found.
Nottingham City Council set up the not-for-profit Robin Hood Energy in 2015 to try to provide cheaper energy.
But by March 2019, the company had lost £34.4m despite large loans from the authority, external auditors Grant Thornton said.
The leader of the council admitted there were failings in its governance.
It comes as the council faces the impact of the coronavirus crisis, with 150 job cuts and the closure of a day centre for people with disabilities proposed last month in a bid to save £12.5m.
Needless to say, despite those job cuts and the proposed closure of a centre for people with disabilities, the net zero show must go on:
The Carbon Neutral Action Plan sets out high-level objectives to achieve a resilient and sustainable carbon-neutral Nottingham by 2028 (CN28).
The Plan itself runs to sixty pages, and although it rightly tells us that “[k]ey to implementing many of the actions to achieve the target will be the funding”, nowhere in the Plan can I find a reference to a single costing. Presumably there’s a budget somewhere for all this (some of which, admittedly, makes sense), but shouldn’t it have been included in the sixty page glossy plan?
As always, correlation is not causation. Perhaps Councils up and down the country would not be facing financial difficulties were it not for things like the long arm of the coronavirus pandemic and the financial costs that accompanied it; cuts in central government funding; increased energy costs, and much else besides. Nevertheless, when times are tough, the frivolous stuff should be the first to go (especially given that Councils aren’t legally obliged to pursue Net Zero agendas). And given that the UK contributes only 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions on an ongoing basis, given that Councils can in reality do very little to influence even that 1%, and given that the UK doesn’t face a climate emergency, the net zero agenda should be the first to go, so that the long-suffering British public doesn’t have to suffer cuts to vital services that really make a difference to their lives.
Sadly, I fear that reality isn’t likely to dawn any time soon.
Retrofitting 300 homes eh? I’m not very clever but when I have driven through Birmingham it looks to me that the council will have rather more than 300 homes to deal with over the next 7 years.
Declared a climate emergency on 8th March 2019. 
Have produced a Carbon Management Plan. 
Spent £70,000 on a local Climate Assembly. 
And now, with elections pending next year, they’ve launched their Masterplan. 
Unveiled at a briefing for invited guests only, details are presently in short supply. Some clues, however, are to be found in the news report images; one of which being the desire to enhance Hereford’s historic centre. How ironic, then, that the briefing took place at the city’s Town Hall – one of the two major public buildings that are in urgent need of repair, but for which there is no money. 
It get’s better though. Outside of the Town Hall lies St Owens St. which is presently undergoing works to incorporate a contraflow cycle lane – at a cost of over £1,000,000. 
Apparently Cllr. John Harrington, cabinet member responsible for infrastructure and transport, appears to believe if cycle tracks are built people will simply get out of their cars and ride rather than drive:
“So when the council decided to axe the western bypass it started to look at different ideas. He makes these points:
* The council wants to improve bus services
* Improve school transport
* 40 per cent of people in the city travel less than 1.2 miles a day by car, partly by habit, and partly because there’s not a nice cycle route to go on. If the council can make it more attractive for people to travel a different way it will free capacity on the roads.”
I cannot help but wonder, though, if freeing capacity on the roads will merely encourage more through traffic.
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“Cheltenham council considering new district heat networks”
The alarming part of this story isn’t the idea that the Council is considering new district heat networks – done right it sounds like a good idea, so long as it’s economically viable and the Council don’t make a hash of it (two major provisos):
Of course, the UK taxpayer has to shell out just to see if it’s a runner:
One of the things that bothers me is the waste and obsession around climate change:
Mr Dudd is Bristol City Council’s “cabinet member for waste, energy, climate change and ecology”.
When reading items like this that demonstrates a link between two different activities (in this case council activities towards Net Zero and declines in other budgets) by providing multiple examples of that link but which never claim there are no counter examples, I do wonder if the link is a perfect one. Are some councils only paying lip service to Net Zero? I do, however, suppose that if there were such councils, that the green mob would be all over them like a green rash.
My argument is not that net zero council policies are the sole cause of their budgetary constraints – far from it
However, I do argue that when times are hard (and even when they are not), net zero policies represent frivolous and pointless virtue-signalling, distracting from more serious issues, and siphoning off limited funds that could and should be much better spent.
It is always possible that some net zero policies might make life better for local people and/or be financially justified by savings generated as a result of the expenditure in question. However, such policies should stand or fall on their own merits. Given that no council can usefully do anything to “tackle” climate change, expenditure pursuing such an aim at the cost of local taxpayers strikes me as a dereliction of duty as a minimum, and arguably as an active breach of duty.
This is a difficult one to judge. I’ve just taken a look at my regional council’s climate strategy and action plan documents and they are both high on arm waving and low on financial detail. Proposed actions are listed but there is no explanation as to how those actions will individually contribute towards, or collectively achieve, the stated net zero target. It just looks like sentiment and wishful thinking.
John, I agree, of course.
The problem is that sometimes sentiment, wishful thinking and arm waving come with a price tag attached, even if it’s only the cost of the consultants who draft the (often glossy) net zero “plan”, and even if the Councils themselves don’t bother to itemise and understand the costs associated with it all.
Arm waving, without more, is a bit annoying, but so long as that’s all it is, I wouldn’t be too upset. The problem is that in some Council areas, a lot of this stuff costs a lot of money (and, as in the cases I mentioned in the article, can backfire spectacularly). Worrying about climate change isn’t a core Council obligation. In fact, so far as I am aware, it isn’t a Council obligation at all. They have lots of statutory duties (sometimes I think there are too many, and that central government expects too much, with limited funding), and they would do better to concentrate on those, IMO.
Here are the Tyndall Centre’s recommendations for emissions cuts for Lincoln:
Sounds pretty easy to me. Dunno what you’re moaning about Mark!
What Tyndall seem to have done is just manufactured automatic reports based on a few simple inputs – existing population and per-capita emissions, that sort of thing. Should anyone wish to investigate Tyndall’s recommended pathways for their own local authorities, you can browse the reports at: https://carbonbudget.manchester.ac.uk/reports/
[Your browser might tell you that Tyndall’s security certificate has expired.]
I first encountered these reports when looking at Norwich’s “pathway.” What do Tyndall recommend? Cuts of 12.7% per year, exactly the same as Lincoln. But Norwich gets an extra year of grace: we have to achieve Net Zero by 2043, a year after Lincoln.
Norwich’s carbon footprint report for 2020-21 is available here: https://www.norwich.gov.uk/info/20508/get_involved/1604/carbon_footprint
It contains this disgraceful assertion:
Norwich seems to have done rather well in the period – a decline in emissions of about 25%. Of course, this was lockdown city, and they are deleting rather a large chunk of their electricity via this “Green Tariff”.
>”…even if it’s only the cost of the consultants who draft the (often glossy) net zero ‘plan’…”
They should have asked me. I could have written my council’s plan and strategy documents in about half a day and my rates are very reasonable.
“Council chiefs warn of job losses and cuts to vital services without extra cash
Job losses in councils are “inevitable” and services will be cut unless extra cash can be found to meet a £1 billion shortfall, local authority leaders have warned.”
I will watch with interest to see if net zero plans remain unaffected, while basic services are significantly reduced, cut, or even stopped altogether.
“Oxford County Councillors to Introduce Trial Climate Lockdown in 2024”
It does appear on the Council website, where the euphemistic term “traffic filters” is adopted:
Sounds great, But the reality is still that Big Brother is watching you, and if you use your car too much, you will be fined:
“False climate lockdown claims in Oxford lead to death threats”
The BBC Climate Disinformation Specialist, Marco Silva, is at it again. It’s true that the Oxford plan is going to go forward only as a trial, at least to begin with. But it is also true that it is to be introduced because of climate concerns (and possibly in an attempt to reduce pollution), as part of the Council’s commitment to net zero. It is also true that people will be fined if they use their cars too much when travelling around the city, and that Big Brother will be watching them. And without a single bit of fact-checking (at least none that appears in the article), Marco gives us this:
Early in the article, we are old this:
The article ends with this:
Those two quotes strike me as mutually contradictory. And OK, it’s not a “lockdown” of the sort we had during the covid lockdowns, but then it’s a term being used in a loose way to describe the plans to limit our freedom to travel where we want, when we want, how we want – and such plans are there, however Marco might seek to spin it. In this sense, what’s the difference between using “climate lockdown” and “climate crisis”? Both are exaggerations, designed to grab attention, but only one gets the climate disinformation treatment.
seems a “nudge” is not enough, so they are moving to “cattle prod” next.
“Cannock climate target watered down in face of £4bn cost”
This story is important at so many levels. One modest-sized council – a cost of £4.7Bn. Understanding that councils themselves are directly responsible for a small amount of an area’s emissions, and that council carbon neutrality is just meaningless (but expensive) virtue-signalling. Continuing hubris, inasmuch as although it’s clear that the Council’s net zero plans are a drop in the ocean, nevertheless they will (pointlessly) plough on regardless. I wonder what the consultants’ report cost? I suppose in its favour, it seems to have prevented the council from wasting £4.7Bn, though they appear to be determined to waste a smaller sum on an exercise in futility.
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PS did anyone spot the BBC’s sleight of hand with numbers again? As Jit and I have mentioned regarding 2022 EV sales, the BBC managed to convert one-sixth in to almost one-fifth, presumably because it suited the BBC agenda of bigging up EV sales. But the report saying that carbon neutrality would cost £4.7Bn is magically described in the headline as £4Bn. Come on BBC – for the sake of consistency, surely that has to be “nearly £5Bn”?!!!
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“EV Refuse Trucks Grounded Through Lack Of Chargers!”
This isn’t a story about wasting money, but it does illustrate the nihilistic tendencies and moves to ban things in some quarters including, it would seem, councils:
“Climate hactivists subvert Bristol Billboards with spoof ads”
Is the picture of a BMW on fire an electric one?
Bristol – traffic nightmare, cars sitting idle for hours in a day.
“More net zero help needed for councils, warn MSPs”
“Thousands of free trees to be given away”
Perhaps it’s a nice idea, in principle. We aren’t told what it will cost, nor whether any helpful advice will be given to recipients to ensure that the right trees are planted in the best locations and to ensure they are looked after and not simply abandoned to die.
The trees may be free…
…but the planters are a bit expensive…
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“Oldham Council to spend £1.35m on Failsworth solar farm”
That would be the same Councillor Jabbar who is quoted here:
“Oldham Labour blame budget cuts for council tax rises
15th December 2022”
Cllr Jabbar added that the cuts and council tax rises have led to an “abhorrent situation where the council runs less [sic] services despite increasing council tax”.
“This is not sustainable”, he said.
“Council tax needs urgent reform – even Michael Gove says it is regressive, meaning poorer people pay more than they should – and we need long-term financial information to help us plan properly”, Cllr Jabbar added….
50 tonnes of CO2 saving? Seems a little low even for solar panels, what with the per-capita annual emissions in the UK about 6 t CO2. That means you’re spending a mil to reduce your population by 8 and a bit.
“Surrey council on brink of insolvency with debts of nearly £2bn
Woking says it is at risk of issuing section 114 notice, which would force central government to intervene”
That would be this Woking Borough Council:
“Climate Emergency Action Plan: Progress Update 11 – September to November 2022”
Click to access Climate%20Emergency%20Action%20Plan%20Update%20November%202022.pdf
I wonder that cost?
“Croydon and Thurrock councils put into special measures
Government-appointed managers will take over day-to-day running after authorities fell into effective bankruptcy”
As well as Croydon and Thurrock, Slough also receives a dishonourable mention:
“CROYDON CARBON NEUTRAL ACTION PLAN”
Click to access croydon-carbon-neutral-action-plan.pdf
And a quick reminder about Thurrock:
“Thurrock council admits disastrous investments caused £500m deficit”
Climate change and carbon management”
Meanwhile, every page of the Slough Council website (including the above one) seems to be headed with a banner message to the effect that:
“Glasgow cuts £22m from health and social care services”
We never hear about cuts to net zero plans and budgets, though. Glasgow Council devotes a significant section to its net zero plans, including this glossy report running to more than 180 pages:
It doesn’t anywhere mention the cost, but in the run-up to COP26 in Glasgow, they did put this page and headline on their website:
“Glasgow launches £30bn ‘Greenprint for Investment’, a portfolio of transformative climate investment projects to boost 2030 Net-Zero goal”
Glasgow, a city with some of the worst health outcomes in Europe, splurging £30Bn on net zero while cutting £22M from health and social care services. Priorities, eh?
Surrey County Council next:
“Consultant leading Surrey County Council’s £30m jump to new ERP system will bag £177,000 as £83m cuts bite local citizens”
That was four short years ago. Meanwhile, today’s news:
“Surrey to install thousands of electric vehicle chargers”
Funnily enough, we aren’t told what it is costing.
“Council spends £1.4m to cut carbon emissions at Buxton Pool”
That would be this High Peak Council:
“Council cuts £51,000 in grant funding to High Peak parish councils
High Peak Borough Council is cutting £51,000 in grant funding to parish councils across the borough due to a “black hole” in its finances.”
“North Yorkshire Council to make EV charging points available to all”
That would be this North Yorkshire Council:
“North Yorkshire Council warns of cuts amid £30 million shortfall”
“Aberdeen City Council offers £40K for Climate Change Officer job”
That would be this Aberdeen Council:
“Aberdeen budget: Why council tax is going up and harsh cuts could become a reality”
Kent Council’s net zero plans and activities are pretty extensive. They don’t, however, come cheap (albeit the Council seems a bit vague about the total cost):
Click to access Report.pdf
Section 5.1 (Financial Implications):
“Kent waste centres face closure to save costs”
“Highland Council looks at generating its own power”
That would be this Highland Council:
“Highland Council budget: Cuts to children’s charities squeak through, as roads investment and 4% council tax rise agreed”