Connor Smith goes over the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s ‘Plan for Jobs’ announced on Wednesday 8 July, highlighting here the key green elements of the announcement and discussing the implications for working towards a sustainable recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
On Wednesday 8 July, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, unveiled to Parliament the much-anticipated ‘Plan for Jobs’, designed to support the UK’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. The fiscal support available for the policy decisions announced in the response is worth up to £30 billion, with just over £3 billion of funds being earmarked specifically for ‘delivering a green recovery’. According to the UK Government, the plan provides direct support to the devolved nations of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland as well as England, however, the devolved administrations will also receive additional funding through the Barnett formula and devolved tax frameworks.
With a budget of £2 billion, the ‘Green Homes Grant’ is by far the most significant sustainability-oriented announcement within the fiscal support package. The grant ensures that homeowners and landlords will be provided with £2 for every £1 spent on home energy efficiency improvements, up to a maximum of £5000 per household. However, for low-income households, the threshold will be raised to £10,000 per household. The scheme, which is only available in England, aims to upgrade 600,000 homes. According to the UK government, this could create 100,000 jobs and should strengthen the energy efficiency supply chain.
The ‘Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme’ constitutes the only other financially significant green announcement within the recovery package. The scheme will provide £1 billion to public sector bodies to fund both energy efficiency upgrades and low carbon heat upgrades. Schools and hospitals are also included in the scheme. Other sustainability-oriented policy announcements from Wednesday’s budget include the ‘Green Jobs Challenge Fund’ and the ‘Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund’. Unfortunately, neither policy is anywhere near financially ambitious enough; the combined budget of the two policies comes to just £90 million (the same amount the UK government recently announced it plans to spend on giving the RAF Voyager a Union Jack themed paint job).
The Green Jobs Challenge Fund, which like the Green Homes Grant is only available in England, plans to create and protect 5,000 jobs by enabling environmental charities and public authorities to create jobs that improve the natural environment including tree planting, habitat restoration, clearing waterways, and creating green space for people and wildlife. Meanwhile, the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund plans to enable social landlords to improve the energy efficiency of their least efficient properties thereby securing cheaper energy bills and a more comfortable home environment for tenants. In addition to the policies detailed above, the government also announced support for low-carbon research and development including £100 million on ‘Direct Air Capture’ and £10 million for the ‘Automotive Transformation Fund’.
In addition to the £3 billion of funds earmarked specifically for ‘delivering a green recovery’, there are several policies which, depending upon how they materialise on-the-ground, could contribute towards the sustainability agenda. For example, the ‘Towns Fund Capital Acceleration’, available to 101 towns across England, can be used to improve parks and transport, both of which could be done in a sustainability-oriented fashion. Similarly, money for ‘Further Education Estate Funding’, ‘School Estate Funding’, and the ‘School Rebuilding Program’ could be spent with social and environmental considerations at the forefront of decision-making processes thereby maximising potential sustainability gains.
To conclude, after so much anticipation over the past three months regarding the opportunity to leverage the pandemic response to drive a green and sustainable economic recovery, Wednesday’s announcements will undoubtedly come as a disappointment to many. Despite all the posturing, the fact is that more money is being earmarked to support high carbon-emitting industries than is being spent on investing in a socially and environmentally sustainable future. Eyebrows are also likely to be raised regarding the decision to roll back planning regulations (also revealed in the announcement) which could result in development that does not meet the standards we ought to be aspiring towards. The policies present in the Plan for Jobs package make it crystal clear that, for the time being, if we are to secure a more sustainable future, the impetus will have to come from local government, local businesses, and communities. With this in mind, it is more important than ever that local authorities put social, environmental as well as concerns front and centre of decision-making processes.