7 in 10 UK councils struggling to finance their net-zero transition, survey finds

A survey of decision-makers at 50 local authorities in the UK has found that most have not begun properly delivering their net-zero transition plans on the ground, with funding constraints being the most common barrier to progress.

7 in 10 UK councils struggling to finance their net-zero transition, survey finds

Conducted by property consultancy Cluttons and sustainable design consultancy AESG, the survey assessed progress to date, future plans and likely challenges to the net-zero plans of councils. While Scotland is targeting net-zero by 2045 and the deadline for the UK as a whole is 2050, many local authorities have set out more ambitious timelines for reducing emissions. All councils covered by the survey had set a long-term net-zero target, covering their own emissions and/or area-wide emissions.

Just one-quarter of the council representatives classed their employer as being properly into the ‘delivery’ phase of their net-zero strategy.

When the survey respondents were asked about the biggest challenges to delivering their council’s net-zero ambitions, 71% said that financing constraints were the biggest challenge. Rounding out the top three most commonly-cited challenges were a lack of in-house skills and a lack of resource.

On finance, the BBC reported last summer that UK councils are collectively facing shortfalls of some £3bn in their budgets for 2023-4. The impact this is having on the net-zero transition has previously been researched by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, which is recommending that the UK Government produces a long-term funding plan for local authority climate action.

On skills and resource, a lack of in-house expertise is clearly leaving some local authorities unsure as to how to flesh out and to deliver comprehensive net-zero plans. Three-quarters of the professionals surveyed by Cluttons said they do not believe they have a ‘clear’ or ‘comprehensive’ understanding of their council’s emissions footprint. A strong baseline is a necessary foundation for all good environmental plans.

Cluttons’ sustainability practice manager Niall Keighron said: “These results highlight the challenges that most councils are currently facing. Despite netzero targets rapidly approaching, the majority of local councils are still unaware as to how they will be expected to meet these, questioning whether these targets and declaration of climate emergencies were made as they were seen as achievable goals or in response to public pressure and statuary obligations.

“ Again, this is where the private sector can help bridge the gap between what’s expected and what is practical and engage councils and communities accordingly.”

Back in March, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published a report concluding that the UK Government has, to date, not sufficiently supported or engaged with local councils on the net-zero transition. The report recommends that the Government mandates councils to draw up net-zero transition plans and produces free tools and guidance to help them do so. It also states that councils would benefit from additional powers and funding to turn climate ambitions into actions.

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