Welcoming the Green Homes Grant
There can be no question that the current stimulus package is a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed to end fuel poverty, decarbonise heat and meet net zero targets in England, never mind the rest of the UK.
But at the risk of torturing the analogy, the waves stimulated by this drop may be just what we needed to make real progress.
The evidence for an intensive government-funded energy efficiency programme is overwhelming. Or so it has seemed to those of us who have been promoting it for years. But, in spite of that, we didn’t move the dial enough. We certainly didn’t get the resource committed and the work underway.
Whether the drive behind the announcement today is an old-fashioned Keynesian stimulus or forward-thinking net zero goals, the opportunity is the same. To show, not just to assert or evidence.
That is why NEA wholeheartedly welcomes and supports today’s announcement. We also accept the need to start the programme in the autumn so that we do not bake failure into the voucher programme. There is a lot to get right, and, as always, plenty of scope to get things wrong.
From a fuel poverty perspective, there are at least three key conditions for the success of this programme.
Firstly, if this is to be a bunfight for vouchers – more like the release of tickets for Glastonbury than orderly referral pathways – then the scheme needs to be both accessible and simple for low income, fuel poor and vulnerable households. Digital delivery of public services is getting stronger. For vulnerable households to benefit, it needs to surpass itself.
Secondly, quality and appropriateness of installation is vital. Creating jobs quickly cannot result in a pile‘em high and sell‘em cheap approach. Training, surveys, retrofit plans, quality controls and consumer protection needs to be factored in. We need this programme to support moves for better quality, not to sacrifice quality to shift units.
Thirdly, at every step we need to be learning how Green Homes Grants prepare the way for what must come next, the scale of infrastructure investment that is focused not just on job creation and supply chain stimulus, although that is vital, but to tackle fuel poverty, climate change and poor housing.
The Green Homes Grant is not the whole answer. It does not take any strength from the demand that energy efficiency must be a UK-wide infrastructure priority for decades. But it does move the dial, it does get government back, directly, into energy efficiency and it does provide an opportunity to show how scale energy efficiency is at the heart of building back better, greener, fairer and healthier.
I would have preferred to see the more expansive and longer-term Home Upgrade Grants and other government commitments to energy efficiency for low-income and fuel-poor households nailed down, with funding commitments for the lifetime of this parliament. I want to see that with a strong focus on area-based assessment and delivery. I still hope that will come. There are plenty of opportunities for this to happen, through both the upcoming national infrastructure strategy and heating and buildings strategy.
This can’t be a sticking plaster. The medical analogy doesn’t quite work because the scheme will deliver real outcomes for households, but Green Homes Grants can be seen as pre-op. Making sure that the main event is ready, not just for the oven or the shovel, but for those condemned to cold, damp and dangerous homes.
Today’s announcement is the trigger for NEA to work even more closely with partners and to do so quickly to ensure that the new resources are well-targeted and deliver lasting benefits to those most in need.