View of London City Hall and skyline at dusk

Why are local councils struggling to get going with net zero initiatives?

Net zero is booming at the minute. With the UK government aiming to make the nation carbon neutral by 2050, businesses and local councils are being encouraged to come up with ways that they can negate their carbon output to improve the environment. There are numerous ways that these councils are being encouraged to take up the fight for the climate, including punishments for not complying and rewards for doing well, but how far along are we to achieving net zero and how can the process be sped up?

A survey has found that the majority of local councils need help getting going with their net zero strategies. The survey focused on 50 representatives of 45 separate councils around the United Kingdom and asked the representatives about their council’s net zero plans, how far along they were, the challenges that they have faced and the what the council’s understand about their own carbon footprint.

Whilst only 45 different councils were consulted, they were spread around the country, so a good sample was achieved. The research discovered that only 58% of councils were in the initial stages of their Net zero strategies, while another 11% were still waiting to get started. A promising finding of the research was that just over a quarter of councils have now moved into the delivery stage of their strategy as of the end of April 2022.

One council that is starting to move ahead with its net zero is the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) in the North of England. The project is developing a new carbon capture, utilisation and storage power plant, alongside Net Zero Teesside. Net Zero Teesside is a collection of businesses which aim to lower their carbon output, as well as the added benefit of aiding the Tees Valley Combined Authority with their Net zero plans. The TVCA supported a webinar recently that opened the project up to hundreds of businesses from around the country, in order to get their support for the initiative. Plans have been submitted for the plant and the aim is for the scheme to be up and running within the next five years. Net zero Teesside is a prime example of how a local council and businesses can collaborate with each other to increase the benefits for all parties involved.

The manufacturers organisation Make UK published research on the 3rd May that focused more on businesses and their Net zero plans; however, it did show that there seems to be a trend that the further North a business is in England, the more they focus on their Net zero strategy. This is shown by the fact that 48% of companies in the North stated that achieving Net zero is a high priority, whilst only 28% of companies in the Midlands and 25% of companies in the South are making Net zero a priority. Whilst the report fails to specify where the lines separating the North, Midlands and the South of England, it is something that could be of interest given Net Zero Teesside’s progress so far.

London is an interesting area to consider when looking at the many councils and combined authorities around the country because it is in the South of England, however it is the capital and they are expected to be at the forefront of local government in this country due to being on the doorstep of the national government and the Mayor of London holding a higher status than other mayors. In January 2022, a report was published to help identify the possible pathways that could be used to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2030 (an accelerated target compared to the original target of 2050). This report helped outline what businesses could do, and would be expected to do, to help Greater London Authority (City Hall) achieve their goal, as well as how they could possibly benefit from the accelerated delivery of the strategy.

It was agreed in the report that businesses in London would be expected to contribute to the net zero goal by co-ordinating with the Mayor of London and other local businesses in order to stay aligned with the goal. Businesses in London were also encouraged to commit to reducing air travel. In return businesses and residents would be able to access a higher share of national funding opportunities or support to develop financing approaches from London stakeholders. Job creation was also another reported benefit of the move to net zero. Councils in the South are making progress with their strategies, but London was always likely to be one of the leading areas, which makes the decision to move to an accelerated deadline of 2030 clearer.

Whilst Teesside and London are showing that some councils are making good progress, there are common issues being faced by local councils that are holding back the development of net zero and these were identified in the report. The most common problem that was found through the survey they conducted with the representatives from the 45 different councils was that the actual financing of the projects was a major obstacle, with 71% of the respondents reported this. When considering the fact that City Hall in London were able to offer financial aid to businesses and residents in the city, a lot of councils may be struggling because of differences in funding depending on where the council is based and their ability to get backing from businesses in the area. Not far behind the lack of funding for the project, came a lack of skills to implement the project and then a lack of time. This is more understandable as the higher skilled workers often gravitate towards the larger cities so if you are leading a council without a major city, you may suffer from a lack of skilled workers available to help you move forward. Lack of time is something that could be brought on by the perceived urgency to roll this plan out nationwide. Whilst London and Teesside have the resources to move ahead and are moving onwards with some pace, other areas may lack the resources to do the same. These issues together do mean that local councils need to prioritise efficiency when implementing their net zero initiatives.

The next logical step for the councils that are moving slowly with their net zero strategies is for them to try and sort out these issues. One key way of doing this is to partner with local or nationwide businesses. Doing this can get the local councils more funding for their net zero projects, as well as being able to fund education, health and social care, housing and other initiatives.

Being able to move through phases of net zero strategies quickly and efficiently allows local councils and any partnering businesses to quicker reap the benefits of net zero carbon emissions. From the point of view of councils, these benefits include:

  • Greater economic, social and environmental value
  • Job creation
  • Business creation
  • Innovation
  • Healthier population

Achieving net zero would also allow the councils to support the Government’s aims to be leaders of the Green Industrial Revolution, to Build Back Better and to Level-Up. As well as helping to create a cleaner, greener society, there are also business benefits to be had when helping local councils to achieve net zero. These benefits include:

  • Operational cost savings
  • Greater resilience
  • Creating a greener supply chain

Overall, the evidence points to a number of reasons for local councils struggling to meet their net zero targets, however these issues are resolvable. With other funding avenues, more emphasis across the nation and a national push to get net zero, every local council should be able to meet their net zero targets. Meeting them would improve the standard of living for residents, provide business benefits for local businesses and help the UK become a cleaner, greener place.


You can watch the full PSE365 Public Sector Decarbonisation in Association with Liberty Charge virtual event on demand here.

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