Government criticised for ‘lack of clarity’ over net-zero strategy

By William Eichler | 16 July 2021

Auditors have criticised the Government for not providing local authorities with clarity about their role in achieving net-zero by 2050.

new report from the National Audit Office (NAO) said it was not convinced that overall engagement has been sufficiently strategic or co-ordinated to ensure that the role of councils in meeting the national net-zero target was clearly defined.

Head of the NAO, Gareth Davies, said: ‘There are serious weaknesses in government's approach to working with local authorities on net-zero, stemming from a lack of clarity over roles and responsibilities and piecemeal funding.

‘This hampers local authorities' ability to plan effectively for the long-term, build skills and capacity, and prioritise effort.'

In March 2020, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) found approximately 45 policy areas across Whitehall that were likely to impact local action on climate change, and recognised that this posed a significant risk of inconsistent goals and messages.

The following month, MHCLG created a new cross-department local government policy group to discuss action on climate change mitigation and adaptation.

However, the NAO found that neither MHCLG nor the Treasury has assessed the totality of the funding available to local authorities for net-zero or whether the balance of different types of funds is likely be effective.

Grant funding for local authorities' net zero activities increased from £74m in 2019-20, to £1.2bn in 2020-21, but remains fragmented.

NAO analysis of 21 grants available to councils for net-zero work showed that local authorities have received very different amounts from these funds: 17 local authority areas received £20m or more each while 37 received less than £2m each.

Some 14 local authority areas received £50 or more per person while 67 received less than £12.50.

Polly Billington, chief executive of UK100, which represents more than 100 mayors and local authority leaders committed to action on climate change, said the report should be a 'wake-up call' for ministers.

She added: ‘Unless ministers empower local leaders before the UN COP26 Summit in November, the UK government will be going naked into the conference chamber.’

An MHCLG spokesperson said: 'The Government recognises that councils can help drive progress towards our national climate change commitments and we will set out details of how we will work with them to reach net-zero in our net-zero strategy.'

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