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.