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Cornwall seeking additional devolution powers to tackle fuel poverty

The Cornwall devolution deal could feature enhanced powers to tackle the region’s persistent problems with fuel poverty, according to papers seen by PSE.

The documents, published ahead of a meeting of the council’s Health and Adult Social Care Overview and Scrutiny Committee tomorrow, ask for the local authority to approve adding three fuel poverty enhancements to the deal currently being agreed with the government.

Under the proposals, the council will issue a county wide local development order which would grant permitted development rights for energy efficiency and heating system improvements to park homes – a detached bungalow-style home, usually set in a private estate, where they’re located on plots known as 'pitches.

In addition, it wants the power to bid for shares of Ofgem’s fine money for fuel poverty projects, in partnership with voluntary and community sector organisations, in order to address a shortfall in funding for fuel poverty measures.

It also said it will try to pilot new ways of sharing data with the government, utilities companies and other partners, using provisions in the Digital Economy Bill. This is intended to enable more effective and efficient targeting of grants to help householders make energy efficiency and heating system improvements.

Cornwall has an unusually high rate of fuel poverty, with poor health linked to a lack of warmth affecting 83,000 people or 15% of its homes.

Fuel poverty contributes to pressures on the NHS by increasing rates of residents seeking treatment for respiratory, mental health and musculoskeletal diseases.

The powers would also allow Cornwall Council to fulfil its statutory duties under the Public Health Outcomes Framework and the Home Energy Conservation Act.

However, the report rated the proposals for data sharing and access to Ofgem fines as ‘amber’ for residual risk.

It cautioned that the data sharing pilot would involve sharing sensitive data with a risk of breaches, and said “rigorous data sharing governance procedures and policies” would need to be developed, in line with recommendations from the Information Commissioner’s Office.

In addition, Ofgem is due to decide on a new mechanism for distribution of fines by the end of the year. The council therefore said discussions with the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy were needed to see whether this aspect of the enhancements was viable.

A recent report for the council’s audit committee rated five of the nine strands of the devolution deal ‘amber’, including health and social care integration and energy.

(Image c. mousehole_newlyn)

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