Heaven knows we need a fresh start. With every tweak of the programmes, with every refinement of the strategy, the prospects of a convincing victory on the core front just get more remote. The fuel poor get to make harder and harder choices, the old and the young suffer health setbacks, the misery piles up. Words like national disgrace, scandal, heating or eating, become devalued.
We’ve ended up with a totally perverse delivery system. The general consensus is that an area-based, whole-house approach works best: what we’ve got is market-driven, bench-marked by cost-effectiveness, and funded by the energy companies who can’t deliver at scale because of the impact on consumer bills. We have programmes delivering the least satisfactory outcomes. A Written Parliamentary Answer at the end of January says it all. Citing the latest figures (21 November), it reported the achievements of the Energy Company and Green Deal in 2013. 471,766 measures had been installed in 403,000 houses (an average of 1.17 measures per house – hardly amounting to a whole-house make-over). 394,370 of those measures had been funded by ECO, and 8,485 by householders getting a Green Deal survey then claiming the cashback offer in the scheme. Only 458 had gone ahead with the Green Deal package, including finance.
How do we make a fresh start?
The delivery structure needs reconfiguring to give local authorities a real stake and greater involvement in energy efficiency improvements. They have broad knowledge of the condition of the local housing stock. They know where the local hotspots of multiple deprivation and poverty exist. They have an interest in promoting local businesses and employment opportunities. They can hold the ring for discussions on budget-sharing (for example with Health and Wellbeing Boards and health budget-holders generally), and try to leverage Local Enterprise Partnerships into the fray. They are a ‘trusted brand’ with the potential to be a game-changer, but they have zero capacity to act.
We have obsessed about installing measures – specific material improvements or equipment – and as the figures above show we have identified just over one measure per household considered to be appropriate, which is counter-intuitive. We have tormented ourselves with measuring outcomes, and now have a complex and opaque point-scoring system which palpably misses the point. The end-game must be housing which is fuel-poverty-proof: housing which is sufficiently energy efficient such that the great majority of households can keep adequately warm at an affordable cost. This can be expressed as a SAP rating, or a rating for Energy Performance Certificate purposes.
Much brow-beating has gone into defining, and then finding, those deemed eligible for subsidised help. We need subsidised help (maybe varying the subsidy for households in particular situations) with the potential to be linked to a universal offering such as the Green Deal (which in turn needs to be more flexible), so that we can approach each street or each community with an offer appropriate to every house and householder. It is important to bring communities together and present energy efficiency as a shared challenge: the work and the disruption will be stressful for some, and the support of their neighbours could be crucial.
We’ve reached a place where currently we are selling schemes, and it isn’t working. We need a new model. When we have a clear idea of what we want to achieve and how we’re going to deliver it, then we can figure out how to pay for it. The ambition is already set in the climate change agenda. Our domestic housing stock needs serious attention to reduce emissions by 2030. On the way, we can improve health and well-being, create jobs, and reduce the country’s dependence on imported fuel. It must be a challenge worth rising to.
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