A short letter to the Economy Company Obligation Plus (ECO+) in response to the ECO+ consultation.
Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy
1 Victoria Street
20 December 2022
Dear ECO+ team
Energy Company Obligation Plus (ECO+) Consultation
Councils are whole place leaders responsible for, amongst other things, housing, planning, transport, and economic growth. Councils have strong trusted relationships with members of their community and even more so now, are being increasingly engaged by people really struggling with the cost of living crisis. Protecting our most vulnerable through this cost of living crisis is councils’ number one priority and as a result councils are investing in homes retrofit and providing a growing number of warm hubs, together with the NHS, and providing information and advice to the community. The LGA has launched its cost of living hub to help share and promote the incredible work councils are doing.
The UK is currently in the middle of an energy crisis with millions of households being plunged into fuel poverty despite government introducing an Energy Price Guarantee. The UK must accelerate the transition to net zero, energy independence and sustainable economic growth (new homes, jobs, skills, productivity etc).
With that in mind the LGA welcomes the expansion of the Energy Company Obligation to include households that are struggling to pay their bills and unavoidably wasting energy when living in poorly insulated properties that would not have received support through ECO4 or other support mechanisms. We welcome the focus on high impact, lower cost measures such as loft insulation and cavity wall insulation to try and improve the energy efficiency of as many homes as possible but we are disappointed that easier and even cheaper measures such as secondary glazing, draught proofing and chimney sheep are not also included. These measures not only save occupiers more money but increase comfort levels considerably.
We are pleased to see that ECO+ can also be deployed in social housing either alongside ECO4 or standalone but the consultation document unveils the fact that multiple schemes running side by side make for a confusing and complex landscape that appears to add unnecessary burdensome administration. Where multiple schemes cannot be avoided, we encourage government to align the administrative requirements as much as possible to ensure the most measures are installed in the homes that need them whilst ensuring public money is safeguarded.
The inclusion of local authority and energy supplier referral is very welcomed. Local authorities know and understand their residents and the opportunity to reach those most in need is significantly increased through local authority referrals. Residents also have significant levels of trust in local authorities’ ability to deliver on low carbon programmes. For example, councils played a prominent role in delivering Solar Together, helping to navigate multiple funding streams and suppliers.
Councils are however extremely resource constrained and any investment in council resources would greatly increase the ability of councils to work with health and emergency services to identify a greater number of householders in need of support. BEIS has established the Net Zero Hubs and Net Zero Go to support local authorities in meeting net zero but they aren’t skilled or resourced to support community outreach and referral, which is so critical at this point and is best led by councils through their range of connections into local communities. In our view, ECO should include an element of funding into councils for the purpose of supporting outreach into communities to receive energy efficiency works, but also linked to other council and community support with energy bills, advice, welfare and benefits and so on. The LGA would also be keen to work with BEIS to deliver schemes that provide councils with opportunities to share good practice on their role in ECO more generally.
The sharing of data increases the opportunity for councils to provide other types of cost of living support to households in their authority area and increases the efficiency of outreach work. Local government, Central Government, Energy Suppliers and installers should develop a data sharing platform to further enhance the support measures available to individuals in the community. For instance, energy companies receiving public funding to participate in ECO schemes will hold a wide range of valuable data on households. Data shared in a timely manner would enable local government to plan interventions efficiently and reduce the likelihood of vulnerable individuals slipping through the safety net.
It is disappointing that lessons have not been learned from previous schemes where short term funding opportunities do not provide longer term certainty to the labour market to retain and upskill labour, leading to a lack of capacity to deliver. Supply chains and skilled workforces are essential for the successful implementation of homes retrofit programmes. Local government is actively involved in the Green Jobs Delivery Group and while we welcome the £9.2 million government investment in the Home Decarbonisation Skills Training competition, it does not provide the longer-term investment needed for every area to deliver the local skills needed. Local government is keen to work more closely with central government to close this gap.
Local government can be the enabler of developing the right green jobs in their local communities. Properly resourced with longer term funding, Economic Growth teams and business support functions within local government can support local retrofit markets by bringing together businesses, education providers and other organisations. The removal of funding silos between economic growth and skills and employment schemes will help as business support schemes that incentivises SMEs to upskill and develop workforce will support the supply chain issues. If the sector is developed using a place-based approach, economy, skills, and employment departments will be able to support businesses to effectively pivot into the market.
Cllr David Renard – Chair
Cllr Darren Rodwell – Vice Chair
Cllr Pippa Heylings – Deputy Chair
Cllr Loic Rich – Deputy Chair - Environment, Economy, Housing and Transport Board