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Leicester City Council: Leading Net Zero Strategies

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Cllr Adam Clarke

Deputy City Mayor – Climate, Economy and Culture

Cllr Adam Clarke discusses Leicester City Council’s Net Zero commitments

At a time when you cannot watch the news without seeing a weather-related catastrophe, it’s a paradox that the mood music in government is pointing taking the foot off the gas in the race to net zero.

The Labour Party in Leicester has a long and strong track record of climate action, that dates back as far as the Rio summit in 1992, where Labour in Leicester’s leading role was subsequently recognised in an Early Day Motion which read “That this House … considers this is a great achievement, both for the city and the United Kingdom as a whole..”

Leicester City Council and our peers, often in partnership, continue to lead the local government net zero stakes. However, stop-start policy making and resourcing means we are held back by systems that aren’t conducive to the challenge before us. Despite this, and within the straight-jacket of Tory austerity, we have been able to put ourselves in the best possible position. For instance:

  • We are continually building a culture within the authority that recognises the co-benefits of climate readiness (reducing our carbon footprint alongside adaptation to inevitable warmer, wetter climates and severe weather events such as heatwaves and flooding). Examples of co-benefits include the opportunity investors and employers see in ‘greener’ cities, quality of life and public health improvements in the population, reduced energy bills at home and work and reduced congestion on a transport network that provides for accessible public transport and healthy active travel;
  • We have a ‘no work lost’ attitude, running through a skilled yet stretched workforce. For example, where bids to government have been rejected, we’ve kept the project in the pipeline. Giving projects a second chance has led to the UKs first net zero bus station, a UK leading fleet of electric buses coordinated through a successful Leicester Buses Partnership and an increasingly connected cycling network alongside new-build and retrofitted workplaces and housing that are good for people, planet and ultimately the public purse.
  • Whilst it creates much debate, our experience of the city mayoral system of governance has undoubtedly enabled us to work at a pace that a climate emergency demands and it helps that the current incumbent is Peter Soulsby, Labour council leader at the time of the Rio Summit and  Labour city mayor since 2011; a helpful blend of radical change of governance and continuity of leadership.

Even with these qualities, the challenge is Sisyphean in its magnitude. We know this because of our handle on the data. Our Carbon Neutral Road Map study demonstrated the scale of the task. The study, which will inform our latest climate emergency strategy, is a tome of complex scenarios which when boiled down to its simplest form, tells us that we have to completely reduce the demand for energy within the city council and across the wider city – and electrify everything else (in lieu of other technologies being slow to emerge). For the city to get to net zero quickly we need to triple bus use, retrofit 65,000 buildings, electrify all cars and vans, install 12,000 heat pumps and 6,000 solar panels a year and make half of all journeys walking, cycling  or wheeling (or find some equivalent measures with the same impact as these actions).

Looking forward

Clearly local authorities need to accept an appropriate level of responsibility as the democratically accountable body for an area – but these responsibilities need to be clearly set out. We are nothing without guidance from Whitehall and support from partners in the wider public sector and beyond. It’s estimated that councils have control or some level of influence over about a third of all emissions and that our council is directly responsible for about 7% of all emissions (if you include council housing and schools). It’s a statement of fact that 93% of the task cannot completed by councils alone, meaning local government needs big ideas, to build its influence, to enable net zero success. Two ideas are posited below:

  1. Decommission the outdated local government tombola funding system, by:
  • creating departmental style settlements that with a new local government green book and a ‘greener book’ that helps to assess and evaluate climate readiness meaning that funding can follow need;
  • creating more flexibility and new powers for local authorities to raise revenue through new fiscal mechanisms, looking at international examples, including and beyond local taxation and difficult to implement road user charging. This could also enable local leaders to directly generate income by divesting from investment funds (including pensions).

2. Direct the whole skills agenda to net zero, by introducing compulsory industry specific carbon literacy qualification alongside t-levels and apprenticeships – led by experts. Climate Levels, or C-Levels (pun intended) would have its own co-benefit in assisting vocational qualifications to rightly have a parity of esteem with academic qualifications and would super charge the knowledge and understanding of tomorrow’s workforce in all sectors.

Final thought

The above intends to provoke debate and these ideas clearly need significant development. Recommended further reading is UK100s ‘Powers in Place’, which provides specific, detailed recommendations that deserve genuine scrutiny, consideration and where appropriate implementation; for local government and for everyone.

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