The UK Government has pledged a zero carbon Britain by 2050. Reaching this goal demands the upgrading of over a million buildings a year, from schools and hospitals to homes and offices. This enormous retrofit challenge could create hundreds of thousands of local jobs, boosting local economies and playing a key role in the green recovery from coronavirus. But councils must act now to ensure communities have the skills required.
The Government’s most high-profile action on retrofit is the Green Homes Grant scheme, launched at the end of September. The scheme offers homeowners funding to cover two-thirds of the cost of certain energy efficiency and low carbon heating measures, up to a total cost of £5,000. There is also an associated Green Homes Grant Local Authority Delivery Scheme, which allows local authorities to directly bid for funding to deliver works in homes with particularly poor energy efficiency across all tenures.
The aim of these schemes is two-fold – to tackle high carbon emissions from the UK’s leaky building stock, and to create new green jobs across the construction sector. But the Green Homes Grant scheme has come in for growing criticism from both installers’ organisations such as the National Insulation Association and from consumer advice services. The main concern relates to the short deadline for getting the energy improvement work done – all measures must be installed by the end of March 2021. Unfortunately, there are just not enough approved installers to complete the work on time, which is leading to frustration from residents wanting to take advantage of the scheme.
The good news is that there is an increasingly loud lobby calling for an extension of the deadline. Furthermore, it is expected that more government policy will follow with the Conservative manifesto having committed to spend £9.2 billion on energy efficiency. There is also a welcome recognition of the quality issues experienced with earlier schemes – all installers under the Green Homes Grant scheme must be Trustmark certified and must follow standards known as PAS2030. From next summer all government-funded retrofit is expected to follow new PAS2035 standards which require a whole house approach.
So regardless of ongoing policy uncertainty, two factors will clearly be crucial for local authorities in the years ahead – a growing demand for retrofit skills, and a need to raise skill levels to meet higher standards.
Councils are rightly concerned about creating new, secure jobs as part of the eventual economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. What should local leaders be doing now to ensure local young people and mid-career workers can benefit from buildings retrofit projects?
Five key actions for local green retrofit jobs
- Work with your local enterprise partnership and further education colleges to assess skills needs in your area. In partnership with your economic regeneration team, identify funding from existing and new programmes to train the local supply chain with a focus on PAS2030 and PAS2035 standards.
- Bring framework contractors together with local colleges to encourage take-up of retrofit and low carbon heat training, along with green apprenticeships across the supply chain.
- Engage your schools to raise awareness of green construction job opportunities making sure young people from diverse backgrounds are involved – recent research shows that 78% of UK adults want to play a part in reaching the UK’s net zero goal and 57% want to work for an organisation that helps get us there.
- Join up with organisations such as the Association of Directors for the Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT) and the Energy Savings Trust to call for more long-term retrofit policy certainty, and new skills funding.
- Look out for best practice – RetrofitWorks has projects in London, Sussex and Oxford to skill up local SMEs, Futureproof is offering free training to local contractors in the West of England, and social enterprise Retrofit Academy has now trained over 600 retrofit co-ordinators. Warmworks, who have retrofitted thousands of homes as part of the Scottish Government’s Warmer Homes Scotland programme, have worked with a network of 22 SMEs to build skills and have created over 130 apprenticeships since 2015.
A new green skills award
A green recovery requires significant training and retraining to make sure the supply chain have the skills required. Ashden is launching a new green skills award to discover, showcase and support replicable initiatives. The award will run for three years, with the first year focussing on retrofit and low carbon heat skills. The award process will highlight innovative work from across the UK and call for entries opens in January 2021. If you have a great project you think might be suitable, keep an eye on our website to register.
Cara Jenkinson is Cities Manager at Ashden