The UK Government recognises the integral role that Local Authorities play in realising the UK target of net zero by 2050. As local leaders, convenors and place-shapers, councils are well-positioned to deliver transformative action within their local context. Strong local leadership, and good communication and cooperation between local and national governments is key to achieving these objectives. Each borough will require its own bespoke strategy, which will be reliant on local knowledge and existing relationships with local businesses and communities.

From our work with local authorities, it is apparent that one of the core actions that councils need to take in order to reach net zero is to encourage an economic shift towards the Green Technology and Services Sector (GTS). Although there will be an initial financial cost in this transition, councils can create a sustainable and resilient economy by supporting the GTS sector, creating new jobs for residents by attracting new businesses to their borough, and helping more established businesses transition to green technology, products and services. There are also many existing government grants in place to support the growth of this sector, and councils will need to focus on helping organisations to access these too.

It has become evident that decarbonisation will require significant investment, however aside from the critical reduction in emissions that is needed to reduce irreparable climate change, taking local action will create benefits to communities, including economic growth and job creation, better quality of life and improved wellbeing. For example, shifting transport fleets to electric vehicles would improve air quality, whilst promoting active transport alternatives such as cycling and walking will improve the community’s physical health. Where possible, Councils should tie net zero actions in with existing projects, such as transport initiatives, job creation and poverty reduction, to help maximise benefits to both the community and the environment.

At Aleron, we recently worked with Oldham Council on a strategic review of the Green Technology and Services sector in Oldham. This work was carried out as part of the Interreg Europe FOUNDATION project which focuses on economic recovery from Covid19 and the loss of key large employers. Oldham Council is progressive in recognising the opportunity of growth in this sector, which would help to stimulate the local economy, create sustainable jobs and attract new businesses. Using the strategic review as the evidence base, we are further supporting the Council to co-produce a Regional Action Plan with local stakeholders. The plan will set the strategic direction and define specific actions to achieve its targets of economic growth and reach their ambitious goal of net zero by 2030.

We spoke to Andy Hunt – Green Energy and Sustainability Manager at Oldham Council – to get his insight into why this piece of work was so important.

Our interview

Hi Andy, why do you think it is so important that local councils are engaged with the UKs net zero targets?

Andy: The effects of climate change and its impacts on the economy and local environment affect the lives of all of our residents in Oldham, and here at Oldham Council we think that it’s important not just to engage with the UK’s national Net Zero targets, but to strive to harness the benefits of early action on climate for our communities. The Oldham Green New Deal Strategy sets a stretch target of 2030 for decarbonisation of the borough and we see Oldham’s green economy playing a key part in achieving that target.

Local authorities’ own emissions account for 2% of the national carbon footprint but they have influence over 33% of national emissions. The Council is the biggest employer in Oldham and also a significant property owner – most of the big buildings in the Town Centre are directly influenced by the Council. Through our ‘Creating a Better Place’ regeneration programme, Oldham Council can be hugely influential in shaping the local economy and the lives of local citizens, and Oldham’s Green New Deal is an integral part of that.

Why do you think it is important for local councils to have a strategic action plan for achieving net zero?

Andy: Achieving Net Zero, particularly at an accelerated pace as is Oldham’s ambition, requires a co-ordinated approach between all parts of the economy and for decarbonisation activities to be fully embedded in strategic programmes – this is why Oldham’s Green New Deal is an integral part of our Creating a Better Place regeneration programme.

Work to map out low carbon infrastructure requirements in Oldham to achieve Net Zero show that the levels of investment required will be very significant. A strategic action plan is essential to plan for how this investment will come into the borough and how low carbon infrastructure will be delivered, to maximise the benefits for Oldham’s communities.

If you don’t have an action plan in place, it is likely that the approach will be purely market-led which is likely to be quite chaotic. Having a co-produced action plan with all key stakeholders helps us understand how the low carbon transition is actually going to happen. Co-production is a core part of that, and absolutely necessary to put Oldham’s businesses and residents at the centre of the low carbon transition. The stakeholders from Oldham’s Green Technology and Services sector are the experts in delivering decarbonisation measures, and they need to be onboard from the start of the process to ensure its success.

What levers of influence do the local council have in helping their borough achieve net zero?

Andy: I’ve already mentioned Oldham’s Creating a Better Place regeneration programme – through this programme the Council commands a lot of influence and the Council is one of the largest investors in the borough via this capital expenditure programme. Delivering Net Zero and a range of co-benefits such as health and wellbeing, improved air quality, reducing inequalities and creating local jobs and training opportunities are all objectives of Creating a Better Place.

Another of the Council’s main levers is as community leader – our ability to connect people from across the borough, both from the public and private sector. The Council holds special relationships with all the core stakeholders in the area, such as the NHS, housing providers including First Choice Homes, and other bodies like Oldham College. Through capitalising on these existing relationships, the Council can have a coordinated approach to co-producing a Regional Action Plan. Furthermore, the information, datasets and the local knowledge that the Council has can help make the most of the opportunities arising from incoming investment streams, making achieving a Net Zero borough by 2030 a reality.

Oldham’s Green New Deal enjoys political support and Elected Members can help to drive the programme forward across the public sector and with residents and businesses.

What have you learned through your experience of working with Aleron?

Andy: Aleron has provided Oldham with an holistic view of the Green Technology and Services sector and given us an understanding of the relative size of all these different sub-sectors. This has provided us with a clear view of what’s going on in Oldham and will help us to prioritise where to invest our limited resources. In addition, the direct engagement Aleron has carried out with the businesses in Oldham has been invaluable, as it has given us the beginnings of a green business network, which we didn’t have the capacity to establish ourselves.  This output is exciting as it is a living thing, a group of stakeholders that we can now easily communicate with to put forward our solutions for the borough. The study has also been incredibly useful in providing a body of evidence which we can now take forward when developing our Regional Action Plan.

What recommendations would you make to other councils after having gone through this process of working with a sustainable consultancy?

Andy: I would recommend that other councils get this piece of work done – a SWOT analysis and action plan are both key pillars needed by councils hoping to achieve net zero in the next decade. However, in order to ensure the work is successfully embedded, strategies need to be linked with existing programmes and any established stakeholder groups must be given meaningful influence. Stakeholders need to be linked in with the local knowledge that the Council has as well as existing strategic programmes. The Council should use its position to support the local green economy and part of doing that is identifying and empowering the right stakeholders from across the borough.

Conclusion

Our work with Oldham Council has emphasised to us the importance of strong local leadership and strategic direction. There are clear areas of influence from which Councils can derive actions, enabled through the development of bespoke strategic plans co-developed by Councils and their local stakeholders. We recommend that Councils consider the following to help inform the development of their strategic plans:

  • Establish a working group with the key local ‘green’ stakeholders including representatives from the Council, the education sector, private businesses, investors, voluntary organisations and business support groups.
  • Identify and analyse existing local businesses in the Green Technology and Services sector to understand the local state of the sector, its needs and priorities.
  • Develop a SWOT analysis of the green technology and services sector with the council to inform potential actions.
  • Co-produce a regional action plan with local green stakeholders, considering existing local and national initiatives.

References:

  1. Delivering Local Net Zero, Local Government Association https://www.local.gov.uk/publications/delivering-local-net-zero
  2. Local Geen Jobs – Accelerating a Sustainable Economic Recovery, Local Government Association https://gemserv.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Local-green-jobs-accelerating-a-sustainable-economic-recovery_final-1.pdf
  3. Sustainable Health Equity: Achieving Netzero UK https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Sustainable-Health-Equity-Achieving-a-Net-Zero-UK-report-FINAL.pdf
  4. 33 Actions Local Authorities can take on Climate Change https://policy.friendsoftheearth.uk/insight/33-actions-local-authorities-can-take-climate-change
  5. Community Energy State of the Sector Report: Working Towards Netzero https://communityenergyengland.org/files/document/523/1624438045_UKSOTSReport.pdf
  6. Councillor Workbook: Local Pathway to Netzero https://www.local.gov.uk/publications/councillor-workbook-local-pathway-net-zero
  7. Climate Action Plan Explorer, Climate Emergency UK https://data.climateemergency.uk/councils/