Sunak must release full £3.8bn decarbonisation fund now

Derek Horrocks is chair of the National Home Decarbonisation Group (NHDG)

To calm fears that undoubtedly arose following the recent rollback of several government green initiatives, including the disbanding of the energy-efficiency taskforce, the government has pledged a further £80m to the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF). By its own reckoning, the extra money will allow 9,500 social housing tenants to benefit from retrofit decarbonisation measures that make their homes warmer, healthier and more energy efficient.

“Social housing is the catalyst for everything else. It’s the way we build our supply chain”

This seems impressive until you remember that the UK currently has some of the oldest and least energy-efficient housing in Europe – so much so that almost 15 per cent of households in the social housing sector are classed as being in fuel poverty.

There is still substantial decarbonisation work to be done (some 27 million homes) if we’re to meet the 2050 net-zero target the UK was praised for when it was first set.

More ambitious and longer-term intervention is urgently needed to rekindle confidence throughout the energy-efficiency supply chain to continue to invest at the levels needed.

Eyes on Autumn Statement

The SHDF has seen great success, but with Wave 2.1 schemes already allocated, long-term certainty is still required. In September, the prime minister said that his government would “continue to subsidise energy efficiency”, and with £3.8bn already allocated to Wave 3 of the fund, the industry wants to see the government bring forward this funding in the Autumn Statement.

The commitment the UK showed by announcing the 2050 target made the country a leading power in sustainability. It risks losing this reputation. Confidence across the market has been severely shaken by the government scrapping its plan to force private landlords to upgrade the energy efficiency of their homes, instead only ‘encouraging’ households to carry out the work.

Additionally, the phase-out of fossil-fuel boilers has been pushed back significantly, while the energy-efficiency taskforce to speed up home insulation and boiler upgrades, which only launched in March, has been disbanded.

This may have a knock-on impact for work in social housing, which is the catalyst for everything else. It’s the way we build our supply chain, skills and innovation. So when businesses in the private decarbonisation sector accelerate this work, the foundation is already there.

Momentum at risk

Rishi Sunak’s new approach runs the danger of risking all of this, and it all feels like a big step back in the net-zero agenda. So much momentum has built over recent years, and we simply cannot let that go to waste by descaling the industry. Indeed, before the announcements, National Housing Federation chief executive Kate Henderson urged the government to not let net zero slip down the political agenda, and to make sure housing associations have the vital funding required to play their part in meeting targets.

Many contractors and housing providers have invested huge amounts of time, resource and money in skills, innovation and processes to carry out the work needed – and, in many cases, this has shaped parts of their business plans, too, when it comes to investing those resources.

It’s important that we further the agenda to provide home decarbonisation at scale, more quickly and efficiently than ever. Key to this is collaboration at scale and a community-driven approach.

Ultimately, we must remember that decarbonising homes is about much more than just achieving net zero. It’s also about supporting millions of people feeling the impact of the ongoing energy, cost of living and health crises, too – so the sooner we get these homes decarbonised, the better.

As a collective, the NHDG, with support from the National Insulation Association, has written to RIshi Sunak, urging the prime minister to engage in ensuring that the all-important momentum is maintained, and calling for Wave 3 of the SHDF to be announced in the Autumn Statement.

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