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Green Homes Grant scheme a ‘slam dunk fail’, MPs say

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The UK government’s Green Homes Grant Voucher Scheme, which was implemented as part of the response to the Covid-19 crisis, has been criticised in a report from the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC). MPs found that the scheme “underperformed badly” regarding the delivery of both green home upgrades and jobs.

The scheme aimed to support jobs during the heights of the Covid-19 crisis in the UK while helping reduce carbon emissions associated with home heating, providing grants towards energy-efficiency upgrades. It was given a 12-week timescale for implementation, and was implemented despite the department for business, energy, and industrial strategy (BEIS)’s own Projects and Investment Committee rejecting its business case.

The PAC concluded in its report that the scheme had an unrealistic timeline, “poor design”, and “troubled implementation”. The scheme upgraded 47,500 of the 600,000 homes originally envisaged and accounted for £314m of its £1.5bn budget, of which £50m was administration costs (more than £1,000 per home upgraded). By August 2021, 52 per cent of homeowners’ voucher applications were rejected or withdrawn and 46 per cent of installer applications failed.

Most damningly, given that its primary aim was job support, the MPs concluded that it delivered just a small fraction of the expected jobs. Its design and duration limited its impact on employment and its abrupt closure may have led to redundancies.

Expressing frustration with the department, the PAC said it is “not convinced that BEIS has fully acknowledged the scale of its failures with this scheme”. The Green Homes Grant Voucher Scheme “continues government’s troubled record of energy-efficiency initiatives and risks damaging the department’s future efforts to harness both consumer and industry action to deliver government’s net-zero commitments”.

Other problems with the scheme identified by the PAC included lack of meaningful consultation with industry and consumers, leading to an overly complex scheme design with poor customer experiences and low uptake.

It also struggled due to the failure of its contractor, ICF Consulting Services, to implement the voucher application system. Poor technical understanding of the contractor’s proposed solution meant that BEIS did not realise sufficiently early that the system would be a failure.

“It is a matter of concern that green homes schemes have repeatedly been short term and have underdelivered on over-optimistic promises on green targets and job creation. The department needs to consider carefully how to approach such schemes in future,” the report said in a summary.

Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the PAC, said: “It cost the taxpayer £50m just to administer the pointlessly rushed-through Green Homes Grant scheme, which delivered a small fraction of its objectives, either in environmental benefits or the promised new jobs. We heard it can take 48 months – four years – to train the specialists required to implement key parts of a scheme that was dreamed up to be rolled out in 12 weeks. It was never going to work at this time, in this way, and that should have been blindingly obvious to the department. That it was not is a serious worry. I am afraid there is no escaping the conclusion that this scheme was a slam dunk fail.

“We will need this massive, step change in the way our homes and public buildings are heated, but the way this was devised and run was just a terrible waste of money and opportunity at a time when we can least afford it.”

Meanwhile, the government is refusing to disclose details of how its 'flagship' climate strategy, launched in October ahead of COP26 in Glasgow, will deliver the vast cuts in CO2 emissions necessary to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. While the government has said that the strategy will deliver the CO2 cuts at the scale necessary, a spreadsheet detailing projected emissions reductions has not been made public, prompting criticism from environmental groups and opposition parties.

Ed Miliband, shadow climate secretary, said: “It is clear that the government’s plan just isn’t credible when they refuse to publish the emissions cuts their policies will achieve. A strategy without numbers showing that the government’s targets will actually be delivered isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”

The disclosure request by the PA news agency under Environmental Information Regulations was rejected by BEIS on the grounds that it is an internal document and its release would compromise the “safe space” officials require to discuss net-zero policy.

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