Engineering and sustainability bodies have voiced criticism at the government’s decision to axe a programme that helps to change the energy performance of housing including social homes.
The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) says the decision to axe the Green Homes Grant scheme last week could undermine the government’s entire decarbonisation strategy.
The industry body said it was “disappointed by this short-sighted decision” and pointed out that it would make the building services industry even more suspicious of any future government initiatives linked to the 2050 net-zero target.
CEO David Frise said: “The government has a very strange way of trying to gain the support, confidence and financial investment of the construction and building engineering companies it needs to deliver a greener built environment.”
He added: “If it tries to launch another scheme in the future that requires employers in our sector to invest hard-earned money and precious time in people and equipment; what answer does it expect to receive?”
The Green Homes Grant (GHG) scheme, which was launched amid much fanfare last year, has been dropped, having achieved just 10 per cent of its target to transform the energy performance of 600,000 homes. Its funding was reduced from £1.5 billion to £320 million earlier this year and the smaller amount has now been reallocated to a home insulation scheme run by local authorities for lower income households.
The government says consumers were reluctant to apply for the grants because they did not want contractors coming into their homes during the pandemic. However, many householders reported waiting months for their applications to be approved and hundreds of small firms had payments due through the fund so severely delayed that some went out of business.
BESA faced a barrage of questions and concerns from members struggling to navigate their way through the convoluted processes and confusing information that characterised the management of the scheme. This left many frustrated and out of pocket because of the administrative burden and payment delays.
The government’s own figures showed that of 123,000 applications for grants by the end of February, just over 28,000 vouchers had been issued and fewer than 6,000 installations completed.
“This is all too reminiscent of the ill-fated Green Deal,” said Frise. “Many companies got their fingers burned with that scheme and organisations like ours spent considerable time and effort trying to persuade members to get behind this latest initiative. We feel badly let down.
“To achieve long-term, low-carbon aims the country needs to have long-term, well-managed initiatives. This stop-start approach will have the opposite effect by turning off both the industry and consumers.”
BESA also said it was disappointed that the chancellor did not take the opportunity to reduce VAT on energy-saving retrofits in his recent Budget.
This was recommended by the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee, which also urged him to reallocate the unspent grant funding to long-term decarbonisation plans.
Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive at UKGBC, said: “Slashing more than £1 billion in funding for energy efficiency is an absolute travesty, for households wanting to take action and for businesses trying to plan ahead, and has created yet another roadblock for decarbonising the country’s 29 million homes. We have been left speechless by this news, which comes just days after the Environmental Audit Committee sent a clear message to the government that if we are to meet our legally binding target to be net-zero carbon by 2050, urgent action is needed to improve the energy efficiency of homes this decade.
“From start to finish, the scheme has been beset by problems of government’s own making. But these should have been fixed, not used to justify its scrapping. In the year of the UK hosting COP26, this is not the sort of example we wanted to be setting for the world – a lesson in precisely how not to do policymaking in this vital sector. With a stream of crucial policies coming down the pipeline for construction and property in the next few months and years, lessons must be learnt as soon as possible and these mistakes not repeated.
“Government is now emphasising the role of local authorities in delivering retrofit and there is absolutely no doubt that they have a key role to play. But they need the certainty of a national retrofit strategy within which to operate locally, and they need to be given financial support and the freedom to innovate. Retrofit has a clear role to play in both levelling up and driving a green recovery at the local level, but this requires a genuine partnership approach.”