Local leaders network warns UK’s current approach to local government is ‘structurally incapable of delivering net zero’
Local authorities are ready and willing to deliver on the UK’s climate goals, but efforts are being thwarted by lack of funding, investment, and resources, a new report has warned.
The Power Shift Report, published today by local government network UK100, warns local leaders are unable to deliver effectively on local and national climate goals because they are victims of an overcentralised governance system that is “structurally incapable of delivering net zero”.
The group has argued that local authorities need more powers and resources, clarity over their role, and increased investment in skills and jobs if they are to help deliver on the UK’s climate goals.
While hundreds of local authorities across the country have declared climate emergencies or committed to some form of net zero target, this ambition and willingness is not matched with capacity, the report warns, noting that local councils right across the UK are “under-resourced and over-worked”.
“We urge the government to recognise that we need to change the existing rules that slow down climate action at the local level,” said UK100 director Polly Billington. “They need to be reformed with the necessary urgency, giving local authorities the powers and resources to put the country on the path to meeting its climate targets by 2050. Our members stand ready and waiting to engage.”
The report also warns that some national policy mechanisms, for instance investment in road funding over active travel, currently work against local authorities’ efforts to cut emissions.
And it argues that the absence of a “clear national and local climate plan” and a “disconnect” between departmental priorities at a national and local level “holds everyone back”.
“The conclusion is clear: the UK government has yet to provide local leaders with the powers and resources to really deliver, amounting to a system that is currently structurally incapable of delivering net zero,” the report states.
UK100 has set out a number of recommendations for how the government can remedy gaps in powers and resources across key policy areas, ranging from giving local authorities new powers to reduce residual and commercial waste, providing local authorities with London-style transport powers, and setting out a long-term framework to enable authorities to invest in low carbon infrastructure and take steps to improve the energy efficiency of building stock.
Local councils are expected to play a catalysing role in the UK’s pathway to net zero, due to the role they play in establishing transport, building, energy, and waste policies at the local level. Government climate advisors the Climate Change Committee has previously warned the UK’s Sixth Carbon Budget can only be achieved if government, regional agencies, and local authorities “work seamlessly together”.
“Our members in UK100 know their communities – and the whole country – cannot get to net zero without them,” Billington said. “Many of the decisions required to get there will be made by local councils, so what they do matters. By codifying this understanding in high definition, our Powershift report, the most comprehensive examination of the powers available to local authorities ever undertaken, makes it undeniable that the push to net zero is simply not possible without local authorities placed at the heart of it.”
UK100 published the report alongside the results of an Ipsos Mori poll of 8,500 UK adults which found that 40 per cent of respondents felt local authorities were better placed to take action on ‘green’ issues that the Prime Minister or national government.
The department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) was considering a request for comment at the time of going to press.