As part of our work on the mPower European project, we showcase the work we’ve been doing with local authorities around the UK, exploring ways to hard-wire client and person-centred approaches to the delivery of publicly procured retrofit works in a fuel poor context.
Plymouth City Council and Nottingham City Council are at the leading edge of work on fuel poverty and retrofit in the UK. Their programmes have taken innovative approaches, ensuring good customer experience, quality retrofit and local economic benefits. However, their first-hand experience of local authority-led retrofit delivery has highlighted some key issues in ensuring those most vulnerable can access retrofit programmes. Their mPower activate project focuses on finding solutions to this challenge.
Carbon Co-op hosted a public webinar with the mPower activate group in December 2021 to find out more about their innovative work. Plymouth and Nottingham Council Officers Justin Bear and Rebecca Hurt were joined by researcher Dr Alice Jones on person-centred approaches, Eleanor Radcliffe from CLES on the potential of anchor networks, and Bruce Davis from Abundance on the potential of Community Municipal Investments.
View project report (full and summary): Person-Centred Retrofit: A fuel poverty vulnerability led approach
With increased national funds for retrofit over 2021, grant funding for energy-efficient retrofit is at the highest level for over a decade. Moreover, the security of future investment in this sector looks more certain than ever, as does a local authority-led delivery model.
However, while more retrofit is being delivered, these schemes disproportionately fail to address the most vulnerable homes.
Because these schemes, Justin Bear argues, heavily target the delivery of the greatest energy usage reduction for the lowest cost. While this market-based approach is broadly effective in delivering moderate improvements to many households and in reducing carbon emissions, Justin argues it also means that those suffering the most due to their housing conditions are least likely to benefit from schemes, as harder to treat properties and households with complex needs are disfavoured.
How can councils serve those most vulnerable?
Nottingham City Council and Plymouth City Council have worked collaboratively to investigate how they can influence this dynamic to ensure that whole-house retrofit can be delivered to those most vulnerable. They argue there need to be fundamental changes to the way that current programmes are delivered. This shift in delivery would involve increased support for those most vulnerable through trusted independent advice, an incentive mechanism that rewards a holistic approach over a cost savings approach, and more sustainable, longer-term finance mechanisms.
To make these changes investment is needed. Plymouth and Nottingham are looking to reinvigorate local partnerships of stakeholders to collaborate on retrofit, where co-benefits exist. Thus exploring whether this could be a means to accessing sustainable long-term finance.
To support this partnership model, the mPower activate group saw value in developing a person-centred approach. Dr Alice Jones was commissioned to investigate person-centred approaches to understand: who are the most vulnerable, the support they need and how this drives holistic outcomes (not just to energy bills), which stakeholders benefit from investment in vulnerable households and which stakeholders may be well-placed to work collaboratively to reach these individuals.
Alice’s research findings shared at this event showed great value, not just in supporting better targeting, but also as a means to engage local stakeholders and to build a holistic partnership approach.
Potential of anchor networks
This kind of partnership working is not new, as Justin Bear points out, however it has been piecemeal to date. Eleanor Radcliffe, senior researcher at CLES introduces the concept of anchor networks and gives an example of a successful network in Birmingham, UK. During the pandemic the issue of long-term unemployment and NHS staff shortages came to the fore, the social housing provider and hospital trust worked collaboratively to find mutually beneficial solutions.
It is this kind of local partnership working around retrofit that Justin Bear and Rebecca Hurt of Plymouth and Nottingham argue could be game-changing. The positive impacts of which would not only be on social imperatives like fuel poverty but on the local economy, the energy system, health institutions, and education.
The webinar ended with Bruce Davis speaking to the potential for local authorities to access community finance via Community Municipal Investments for social and environmental initiatives like retrofit.
mPower is a four year Horizon 2020-funded peer learning programme to help municipalities in creating a fair, clean and democratic energy future. To find out more see the project page.