COVID-19 has shown that communities across the UK can act in the common interest but that central Government’s instinct is to re-centralise in a time of crisis. While COVID-19 is likely to dominate the political debate in 2021, the crisis of climate change will continue to escalate. As the UK hosts COP26 in Glasgow this autumn, the Government will be under increasing pressure to demonstrate its commitment to meeting our net zero target by 2050.
If they are to be successful, the Government must learn the lessons from their response to COVID-19 and develop a more decentralised and collaborative approach, particularly when it comes to working with local and combined authorities.
Local government has already shown its commitment to net zero with more than 74% of district, county, unitary and metropolitan councils declaring a climate emergency – with many, like Newcastle-upon-Tyne delivering detailed action plans aimed at achieving net zero by 2030.
The decarbonisation of UK housing alone – the most inefficient in Europe – could potentially generate upwards of 77,000 jobs in regions like the North with a further 120,000 in the wider supply chain.
So it is crucial that Government invests in this collective effort across the UK. We must not repeat the costly mistakes of COVID-19 where we’ve seen Westminster sidestep local capacity and expertise in favour of a generic, one-size-its-all approach.
Decentralisation will not only deliver better solutions and greater accountability, but also local jobs, skills and investment – the vital building blocks of a better future.
Sarah Longlands is director of IPPR North