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From the Queen’s Speech to the next election: what now for the government’s agenda?
From the Queen’s Speech to the next election: what now for the Government’s agenda?

Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Sustainability Disclosure Requirements: Where do we go from here?

Sustainability Disclosure Requirements have long been on the industry’s radar, supported by wider international actions surrounding the need to combat climate change and protect our environment. However, more recently, clarity around what these requirements entail and how we can appropriately implement them has been notable by its absence – leaving many to wonder, what comes next?

The history of SDR

In July 2021, the Chancellor announced the new Sustainability Disclosure Requirements (SDR) at his Mansion House speech. These requirements were to be focused on combining existing requirements with new ones in an effort to create a new sustainable investment labelling regime which would make it easier for consumers to navigate the investment products available to them.

The SDR were then fleshed out three months later in October, when, just before hosting COP26, the Treasury laid out its roadmap to sustainable investing: Greening Finance.
This detailed what the SDR would need to include, and when; how the SDR should report against the (forthcoming) UK Green Taxonomy; considerations to be made in the day-to-day running of business to ensure responsible stewardship; the potential for ESG data and ratings providers to be brought into the scope of the regulator and Government expectations for asset managers, asset owners and service providers as part of the UK’s transition to net-zero.

Details were “subject to further consideration” and in November, the FCA opened a consultation on SDR and investment labelling, inviting views from the industry at large on the pending obligations. Responses came from far and wide in support of the SDR, with suggestions around labelling, how to make the requirements accessible to consumers, and how the SDR could fit in with other standards.

That consultation was closed in January of this year and the next steps for the SDR were lauded to be in the Queen’s Speech in May. However, while the Treasury stated that it “remained committed to implementing sustainability disclosure requirements” and would “proceed with the necessary legislation in due course”, a reluctance to impose any new regulations on businesses at that time meant that the SDR were notable by their absence in the Financial Services Bill.

This decision was met with notable frustration across the financial industry, with some suggesting that the postponement of the SDRs was a missed opportunity for the UK to reaffirm its position as a global environmental leader as well as denying business the much-needed guidance, clarity and confidence in aligning their processes with a 1.5C future.

Now, the FCA has said it will publish a consultation paper on the sustainability disclosure requirements, including sustainable investment labels, in July, but that formal engagement will not be until Q4 this year.

So, with a moving timeline and a distinct lack of clarity around what the SDR is going to look like, where do we go from here?

 

Join us

On 30th June, WA will be hosting a panel discussion to explore where the industry needs to go next. We’ll explore the Government’s latest developments of the regulation, the main concerns facing the industry and what effective SDR really look like.

 

Confirmed panellists

 

Andrew Death, Deputy Director, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Andrew Death is a Senior Civil Servant in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. He has been a civil servant for 21 years and is currently Deputy Director for audit and corporate reporting. His responsibilities include delivering changes to the corporate reporting framework to implement Government policy of ESG reporting, as well as delivering legislative change to increase competition, choice and resilience in the audit market.

 

Louisiana Salge, Senior Sustainability Specialist, EQ Investors

Louisiana is responsible for overseeing EQ’s ESG and impact integration strategy across all assets, its stewardship efforts and sustainability data reporting.

 

Louisiana first joined EQ Investors in 2018 on an internship during her master’s degree programme at Imperial College London, where she conducted research on impact measurement for her thesis. This formed the groundwork for EQ’s award-winning Positive Impact Report, and she joined the firm as a Sustainability Specialist after graduating. Over the last 2 years, Louisiana has developed, and implemented common sustainability standards across all assets managed at EQ. She also leads as a specialist across the three sustainable portfolios managed at EQ: Positive Impact, Future Leaders, Climate Action.

 

James Alexander, CEO, UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association
James Alexander joined UKSIF as Chief Executive in October 2020, with a strong vision and mandate to further enhance the organisation’s key role in promoting and expanding sustainable investment and finance in the UK.

 

James has a background in international climate finance and infrastructure finance as well as many years’ experience in leadership roles in membership organisations. Most recently, James supported global megacities to overcome the substantial barriers to financing climate action as Director of the City Finance Programme at the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and Head of the C40 Cities Finance Facility – a project preparation facility he developed, now supporting cities across the world to structure nearly a billion dollars of sustainable infrastructure transactions. James has worked on international climate finance issues at the UN level and supported cities across the world to invest their pensions and reserves more sustainably.

James is Treasurer of Eurosif, the European Sustainable Investment Forum, a member of the Green Technical Advisory Group (GTAG) providing advice to the UK Government on implementing a UK green taxonomy and a member of the Disclosures and Labels Advisory Group (DLAG) providing advice to the FCA on the UK’s SDR and fund labelling regime.

 

When:
Thursday 30th June,
08:00 arrival for 08:30 start, close at 10:00

Where:
WA Communications,
6th Floor, Artillery House,
11-19 Artillery Row,
London, SW1P 1RT

 

RSVP AnaNogalesGarcia@wacomms.co.uk

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From the Queen’s Speech to the next election: what now for the Government’s agenda?

The Queen’s Speech on 10th May will be one of the Government’s last opportunities to set out its policy agenda ahead of the next general election.

With the Conservatives trailing in the polls and expected to lose seats in this week’s local elections, will Boris Johnson take the opportunity to reset and galvanise his premiership, or will rising inflation and the cost of living mean that the Government continues to lose ground as the general election approaches?

WA’s new report on the Queen’s Speech takes a close look at the Government’s latest legislative agenda, assessing where its priorities are likely to lie in the coming months and what that will mean for businesses.

You can download the full report here:

Queen’s Speech 2022: A look ahead (PDF)

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On the charge: government plans to stimulate the uptake of electric vehicles

Encouraging the uptake of electric vehicles (EV) has become a key part of the government’s plans for a “green industrial revolution” and for meeting its Net Zero targets. The sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans is due to end by 2030, by which time all new vehicles will be required to have “significant zero emission capability”. By 2035, the government plans that all new vehicles will be zero emission.

WA will shortly be launching consumer polling looking into the priorities of the public in relation to EVs, focusing on the barriers to greater uptake and on charging infrastructure in particular. The government has taken the view that expanding and improving the UK’s network of EV charging points will be key to achieving this transition. It is expected that many will regularly charge their vehicles at home or work, but sufficient provision of public charging points – including rapid charging stations on motorways and kerbside charging for those without a driveway – will be particularly important.

There is considerable regional variation in the availability of charging infrastructure. Only 1,000 of the roughly 6,000 on-street chargers, for example, are outside London, and the total number of chargepoints per head in Yorkshire and the Humber is a quarter of those in London. At motorway and A-road services, there are 145 public charging stations at motorways and A-road services, providing around 300 individual chargers across the UK.

Stimulating investment in charging infrastructure is seen as a priority for regulators and the government

In order to promote the development of charging infrastructure, regulators have been keen to encourage increased investment in the sector. In May 2021, for example, the UK energy regulator Ofcom approved a £300 million investment round for regional network companies across more than 200 low-carbon projects over the next two years. This is expected to include the installation of 1,800 new rapid charging points at motorway service stations and a further 1,750 charging points in towns and cities.

These new installations will go towards the government’s vision for the rapid chargepoint network in England, for which the Department for Transport has set the targets of having:

In pursuit of these targets, the government has allocated £950 million to the Rapid Charge Fund (RCF), designed to “future-proof electrical capacity at motorway and major A road service areas”. While the government has stated that it expects the private sector to deliver chargepoints where they are commercially viable, the RCF may provide a potential source of funds for businesses seeking to expand the charging network in areas where they can make the case for what the government calls “a clear market failure”.

Concerns over competition in the charging sector are likely to inform the government’s approach to regulation as the sector expands

Alongside efforts to stimulate further investment in the sector, the regulatory framework for chargepoints – particularly in relation to ensuring adequate competition – remains a subject of active debate, liable to evolve rapidly as more infrastructure is installed.

In July 2021, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published its report – Building a comprehensive and competitive electric vehicle charging sector that works for all drivers – outlining challenges to effective competition in the market in relation to rolling-out charging along motorways, in remote locations, and on-street. As a result, the CMA recommended a number of “targeted interventions” to “kickstart more investment and unlock competition”.

For chargepoints along motorways, where one chargepoint operator holds a market share of 80%, the CMA found that constraints on the capacity of the electricity grid and long-term exclusive contracts prevent entry by competitors at many sites. It recommended that the government use its commitment to fund upgrades to the grid as a means of opening up competition and facilitating market entry.

For on-street charging, the CMA highlighted that the roll-out is slow, and suggested that local monopolies could arise if the market is left unchecked. It recommended that local authorities play an active role in overseeing the market in their areas, and suggested that they could require fresh powers to ensure that they were adequately equipped to do so.

In response to these recommendations, the government has confirmed that it is considering regulatory changes with a view to enhancing competition in the sector. This includes considering requiring service area operators and large fuel retailers to tender charge point service contracts openly and have a minimum of two – and at some sites more than two – different charge point operators at any particular site. The Department for Transport has also suggested requiring existing providers of charge point services at motorway service areas to make their charge points open-access rather than available only to an exclusive network or group of networks or manufacturers. The Office for Zero Emission vehicles’ consultation on the Future of Transport regulatory review closed in November 2021, and its findings will feed into legislation which may feature in the next Queen’s Speech.

The regulatory environment for chargepoint providers is thus likely to evolve rapidly as the UK’s road charging network expands over the next few years. With changes likely to impact established players in the sector as well as providing potential means of market entry for challenger firms, investors will want to monitor these developments closely in evaluating opportunities for their target or portfolio companies.

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COP26 – What you need to know

At the end of the first week of COP26, Naomi Harris gives her top three takeaways and looks ahead to what next week holds.

Corporate communications haven’t quite gone to plan

The comments by Shell CEO Ben van Beurden that investment in the technology necessary to transition to net zero could only be financed by oil and gas revenue led to questions about the viability of the Anglo-Dutch giant reaching its own 2050 target. Greta Thunberg walking out of a panel on carbon offsetting, arguing that it was just another method of ‘greenwash’ by business illustrated yet again what happens when the corporate world, which is moving – but more slowly than Greta would like – collides with activism. We look to see whether such risks are better managed over the next few days.

The UK (and the UN) are trying to create a drumbeat of announcements but not all the pledges are in tune

More than 130 of the 197 countries attending have so far pledged to reach net zero by 2050, but fewer than a third have pledged to phase out coal. You’d be forgiven for scratching your head and wondering how that circle will be squared. Carbon capture and storage is an option, but the technology and its take-up will have to move on leaps and bounds. Critics argue it won’t and so the net zero pledges of those clinging to coal aren’t worth the paper they are written on.

National political tensions are playing out on an international stage

The Indonesian president committed to halt and reverse deforestation within his country’s borders, but before he could enjoy the warm glow of international approval his environment and forestry minister backtracked by saying Indonesia ‘can’t promise what we can’t do’. The minister added that the country’s natural resources should be used to support development and zero deforestation by 2030 would be ‘unfair’.

Expect another week of wall-to-wall news coverage

The week ahead will touch on the role of innovation and transport in decarbonisation as well as what action needs to be taken across the world’s cities to keep us on track towards net zero.  Going beyond the headlines, WA is conducting primary research to understand what impact COP26 has had on how people engage with the climate debate, how they view business and what this could mean for how organisations choose to communicate.

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Top takeaways from the UK’s Net Zero Strategy

Alongside the much-anticipated Net Zero Strategy, 20 supporting documents were published by the Government just days before COP26 kicks off.  From the Heat and Buildings Strategy to the Treasury’s Net Zero Review, from the consultation on phasing out fossil fuel heating for homes and businesses off the gas grid to research papers on behaviour change – there are close to 2,000 pages to make your way through as the UK seeks to demonstrate leadership.  To save you time and your personal energy, Naomi Harris gives her top takeaways.

The Strategy meets legal, political and communications objectives

This Government has consistently underlined its support for the transition to Net Zero, but some argue it has – until now – failed to meet the legal obligation of the 2008 Climate Change Act requiring it to set out proposals and policies that would see the UK meet the five yearly carbon budgets.  By publishing the Net Zero Strategy, the Government has met this obligation.  The proximity of the Net Zero Strategy’s publication to the start of the COP26 also puts the UK in a position of leadership as it can say that it has met requirements set out in the Paris Agreement and seek to chivvy other countries along to do the same.  Whether it can do so is another question, but the Government now speaks from a position of greater credibility.

We’re still waiting for a lot of detail

It is a definite step in the right direction, but questions remain as to whether it and its supporting documents are strong enough to meet the sixth carbon budget that takes us close to 2040.  The Heat and Buildings Strategy is a case in point.  Heating our homes and businesses is responsible for 20% of the UK’s emissions so cutting into this is vital if we are going to meet Net Zero.  Delayed by a year, there was an expectation that the contents of the Strategy would set out a panoply of bold actions.  It did not.  It announced £450 million in funding over three years to give people up to £5,000 to put towards a heat pump.  Friends of the Earth calculate this will pay for just 90,000 heat pumps (on top of the 200,000 already installed), and it won’t go towards covering the cost of insulation or new radiators.  To put that into perspective, the Government’s target is for 600,000 heat pumps to be installed every year.  A decision on meaningful support for hydrogen was put off until 2026 – much to the disappointment of the gas network operators.

The Treasury gave the green light on principles, but flashed amber on payments

HMT started its review of the transition to Net Zero in 2019 and its final report this week confirms that the cost of inaction is far greater than action.  It also reflects on the limitations of its own modelling – noting that the cost of technology had fallen far faster than anticipated.  That is not to say that the brakes are off when it comes to public spending.  Rather than reaching for lever of public borrowing to pay for policies outlined in the Strategy, the Treasury expects private sector investment to increase to £90 billion – noting that the UK’s investment levels are the lowest in the G7.  Funding was reserved for kick-starting innovation in heat pumps, supporting the exploration of direct carbon capture and storage, and promoting supply chain development.

This is just the beginning with bumps in the road expected

With the strategy now published we move into action.  Electricity Market Reform 2.0 is on the cards with changes to Contracts for Difference and new finance models expected, while the consultation on moving levies from electricity on to gas and phasing out oil and gas tanks for off grid homes are likely to draw significant political and media scrutiny as the Government seeks to decarbonise without penalising billpayers.  These are just two examples from what is going to be a busy agenda of policy development over the coming months.

For advice on what the Net Zero Strategy could mean for your business, please email naomiharris@wacomms.co.uk.

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What we can expect from the Heat and Buildings Strategy

The imminent publication of the much delayed and highly anticipated Heat and Buildings Strategy is expected to have significant consequences for the fabric and the fuel source of our nation’s homes.  The scale of change – as the Government seeks slash into the 40% of CO2 emissions that heat, and buildings are currently responsible for – is set to be even bigger and more impactful on peoples’ lives than the nation’s move from coal to gas 50-years ago.

We’ve all read the headlines about gas boilers, so here we pull together a summary of what industry, investors, consumer groups and environmental campaigners are calling on the Government for if we are to smoothly accelerate progress towards net zero.

1.Plug the hole left by the Green Homes Grant.

The scheme, shelved less than a year after it was announced, was plagued by criticism for being too bureaucratic and laborious to access.   Despite condemnation of its complicated set-up, there remains a sense that uptake of energy efficient and insulating products will continue to be insufficient without market intervention to stimulate demand.  These products – used in our homes at scale – are critical to reducing emissions from existing housing stock, but the high upfront costs are often prohibitively expensive and off-putting.  The Government has committed to bringing forward a new scheme and will be hoping it is a case of ‘third time lucky’ (readers will remember the Green Deal debacle of the Cameron era and the eye-watering interest rates homeowners were expected to pay on loans).

2. Answer how we will have enough skilled tradespeople to carry out the scale of work required.

Fewer than 2 percent of UK homes are heated by a low-carbon source and estimates put the number of gas boilers that will need to be replaced, either by a heat pump or hydrogen-ready boiler, at around 20 million.  That’s not counting new homes yet to be built where Government plans to halve energy use by 2030, compared to today’s standards.  These figures are set alongside an exising shortage of approximately 100,000 gas engineers.  The Government is expected to set out detailed plans on how it will attract, train, retain and upskill the huge number of engineers we are going to need to install new heating systems across the country.

3. Detail how the remaining £6 billion committed to energy efficiency in the 2019 manifesto will be spent.

Less than a third of the £9.2 billion earmarked for energy efficiency has been allocated to projects and programmes to date.  While the fiscal situation has changed markedly since Covid, industry is looking to the Government for a steer on whether the scale of this commitment remains in-tact and, if so, where resource will go.

4. Support new supply chains.

Buying energy efficient products and using new sustainable infrastructure is brilliant but putting in place the building blocks to establish a deep-rooted supply chain for their design and manufacture in the UK is the cherry on the top that many will be looking for.  Making sure that the Heat and Buildings Strategy ties into the Government’s Levelling Up agenda will be particularly important for political audiences who have seen the offshore wind industry put down roots in the UK and who want to see that model successfully replicated in other parts of the country.

5. Explain how homes not connected to the grid will be heated.

Around 4 million homes are not connected to the mains gas supply, the majority of these being in rural communities that rely on oil or LPG for heating.  Electric heat pumps could well be the answer, but some suggest an increased role for biofuels to cut emissions from these households sooner rather than later.  Guidance from Government on how rural homes will lock into the transition is keenly anticipated and will likely receive significant scrutiny.

6. Clarity on taxation.

A very contentious area that the Government will have to wrestle with, eventually.  There is growing pressure on ministers to re-orientate the tax system to encourage more clean heat as well as demand for green products. Whether the Government decides to entirely remove levies currently applied on electricity generation and place them on gas bills or even general taxation is a big question, or to scrap VAT on things like insulation and heat pumps.  The answer is likely to result in a lot of debate and for that reason, we may not see receive a complete one in this strategy. That being said, industry will be looking for some indication of where Government thinking is going.  A signal that it may be minded to change tax treatment could be a huge boon for the UK’s embryonic heat pump industry, but could have repercussions for the gas sector’s transition hydrogen – a nascent endeavour that the Government won’t want to knock off course at this stage.

All of this goes to show the careful balancing act that the Government must perform in what it sets out in its strategy.  The complexity potentially being part of the reason for the delay in its publication.  One thing unites all the different lobby groups in this debate – a desire that the strategy sets out meaningful detail, promotes action, provides confidence, and unlocks investment.  A repetition of ambition and targets won’t be enough.

We hope this short overview provides a useful reference point against which the strategy can be judged once published for consultation.  To discuss any of the issues raised or how the Heat and Building Strategy could impact your business, please email me at naomiharris@wacomms.co.uk.

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The impact of Covid on international travel this summer and beyond

The article below was written by Pauline Guénot, a member of WA’s Investor Services practice.

While Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared that on 3 June there was “nothing in the data” to suggest a delay to the 21 June reopening target will be necessary, hopes of holidays abroad are still stymied by both testing and quarantine requirements, potentially jeopardising the recovery of the travel industry.

The UK is currently operating a three-tier “traffic light” system for international arrivals, which is reviewed every three weeks. Arrivals from countries in the red list require a 10-day hotel quarantine, while those from countries on the amber list are required to quarantine at home for 10 days and book tests for the second and eighth days. Arrivals from the green list – which presently includes only 12 territories – need not quarantine but are still required to take a test on the second day post-arrival.

Key barriers facing travellers

Ongoing restrictions to international travel will exacerbate the economic damage which the pandemic has done to the travel and aviation industry. According to the ONS, it has been the worst affected by the pandemic, with a fall to its lowest turnover rate in May 2020, at just 26% of February levels, compared with 73.6% in all other industries. The Minister responsible for tourism, Nigel Huddleston, has claimed that the government’s response to the travel industry crisis has been “immense” but, as yet, there is little sign of a sustained upswing in the industry’s fortunes, as the additional hassle Covid protocols entail continuing to deter travellers.

Firstly, the testing system has drawn criticism for its cost – up to £378 for the two tests for one individual. The government has been called upon to cap it to £50 by the Institute of Travel and Tourism, and to scrap the VAT on tests as a means of promoting the travel and aviation industry’s recovery. But the issues of testing go beyond cost. Private laboratories are already overwhelmed and travellers face delays in getting their results, demanding more flexibility around arrivals and departures. This problem is likely to be magnified if the green list is expanded in the coming months. Travel insurance has thus become a hot topic, and some travel companies might also offer packages including testing to ease travellers’ minds, like TUI which has partnered with Chronomics to offer the service from £20.

Industry experts have warned that summer holidays be thrown into further chaos by hours-long queues in airports created by onerous health checks at borders both upon arrival and departure. In response to lengthy waiting times, Heathrow Airport has pledge to lay on more staff and upgrade its passport e-gates, but such improvements will not be available until autumn 2021 at the earliest.

One of the key problems with the three tier “traffic light” system is that it cannot provide the certainty necessary to book holidays abroad very far in advance. The classification is guided by the analysis of factors including the country’s rate of infection, the prevalence of variants of concern, and the access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing. As a result, countries can move rapidly between the lists, in both directions; Portugal had only been added to the green list for a few weeks before being removed. The Nepal variant spreading in Europe is also currently making the headlines, threatening the green list’s expansion.

Towards a global understanding around Covid-19 certificates?

Before booking a trip to a country on the green list, British travellers must consider the entry requirements of their destinations, as well as the requirements for their arrival back in the UK.

The European Union has implemented a digital certificates system; travellers demonstrating vaccination, a recent negative PCR test or immunity from past infections are exempt from travel restrictions within the EU. If they succeed in reaching an agreement with the UK, British tourists could enjoy European trips as the continent’s restrictions are due to be lifted by the end of the month. Nevertheless, individual EU member states can still set their own rules when facing a deteriorating health situation or a new variant. For example, France and Austria recently tightened restrictions to prevent the Delta variant detected in India from spreading: a negative PCR test or a proof of vaccination is no longer sufficient to cross these borders. Over the summer, however, countries relying on tourism might not be so strict. Greece, Cyprus and Portugal are already open to British tourists, with Spain due to follow.

When it comes to crossing the Atlantic, the G7 summit taking place in London this month might answer that question. Boris Johnson will attempt to negotiate a quarantine-free air corridor with the US aiming at exempting vaccinated Americans from self-isolating upon arrival in the UK, in the hope of a reciprocal agreement for British citizens flying to the US. If he is successful, the current restrictions would be lifted in early July, allowing both British and American citizens to travel. However, the US administration has proven to be reluctant to lift the travel ban, arguing that prioritizing countries with a successful vaccination programme would send the wrong message to developing countries benefitting from the Covax scheme.

Holidaymakers must therefore remember that for travel to be possible, a reciprocal agreement between countries has to be reached. While Australia is on the UK’s green list, for example, limitations in place by the Australian government still prevents British nationals from landing on their territory. Furthermore, travel regulations are highlighting broader political motivations: the United Kingdom had to consider different variables, not least its hoped-for bilateral trade agreement, before placing India on the red list.

A digital and sustainable model of tourism ahead?

Electronic Covid passports along the lines of those currently operating in the EU might be the first illustration of a more digital model of tourism. As a result of Brexit, summer 2021 will be the last time that EU citizens will be able to travel to the UK with their identity cards (rather than their passports). Priti Patel confirmed that the new requirements would take effect from October onwards.

She also plans to introduce an Electronic Travel Authorization system, similar to the ESTA in the US. Also being considered by the EU, the ETA would see all visitors without a visa or immigration status charged a fee, and would be in place from 2025. As yet, the government has not given an indication of how much the system will cost each visitor.

A longer-term impact?

Ongoing restrictions and changeable regulatory requirements may mean that the travel industry does not recover to anything like 2019 levels of activity much before 2023, so pressures on the traditional approaches to mass-market tourism will remain even when the immediate trauma of the pandemic recedes. This may compound longer term trends of heightened environmental awareness about both the impact of air travel, and the impact of large numbers of visitors in potentially sensitive ecological areas.

Business travel will inevitably change as well, with virtual conferences becoming much more commonplace and, where necessary, longer trips blending work and leisure activities seen as the norm. Investors will want to pay close attention to such developments in order to stay ahead of what promises to be a rapidly evolving picture.

 

 

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Telling your Net Zero story: communicating the critical role of the energy sector in the transition

COP26 in Glasgow this November will see the eyes of the world focus on the UK. The UK’s green ambitions – and action – are under significant scrutiny. The regular drumbeat of announcements from across government aimed at supporting the green recovery and the UK’s transition to Net Zero are testament to this.

But it is not just government aiming to set their own narrative ahead of COP26. Businesses – particularly those in the energy sector – also have a need to communicate around the summit and to tell their own story on the contribution they are making to achieve the UK’s legal targets by 2050. Brands need to show consumers and other stakeholders that they are doing the right thing. They need to shape the policy frameworks that government is developing that will achieve these ambitions. They need to explain to investors, employees, and customers what the transition means to them and how they are adapting their businesses to reflect this. While the transition to Net Zero presents many opportunities, it also isn’t without its challenges.

All of this means that for businesses in the energy sector, communicating about Net Zero is not as simple as just sharing good news and showing you are ‘green’. Different audiences all have different needs and priorities. They need to hear nuanced messages in different ways. Understanding these complexities and responding to them through simple communications is not easy.

Here we share our thoughts on how best to engage with these different audiences:

Customers

To date, the transition to Net Zero has been largely theoretical for most people. It has focused on how energy is generated rather than how it is used. Where it has been about usage – for example transport decarbonisation – change is still at a relatively early stage and it has had limited impact on people’s lives. This will inevitably change. Net Zero will become a lot more intrusive in people’s lives very quickly – the decarbonisation of heat is just one example of where business must take the lead in explaining to their customers what is happening, why it is happening, and how it will impact peoples’ lives.

Heat decarbonisation could see the mass installation of hydrogen boilers and/or electric heat pumps with old boilers and hobs eventually replaced with lower carbon alternatives. Consumers will be looking to their energy suppliers and other well-known brands – manufacturers and network operators – to guide them through this period of change and uncertainty. They will be looking to these businesses for clarity on what heat decarbonisation is likely to mean for them and their families, what they need to do, when, and how they will be supported.

Consumers risk losing trust in suppliers and others in the sector if they feel they’re not getting the advice they need. The challenge is that not all of these answers are known yet and there is disagreement within the sector about the best pathway to take. In the interim, businesses in the energy sectors have a role to play in explaining the different options and showing that they are actively championing the needs of consumers.

Policymakers

The key milestones and direction of travel on the transition to Net Zero will be set by government. While business has a critical chance through innovation to shape the approach of the UK to decarbonisation, it will ultimately have to align with the policy and regulatory framework.

Communication to policymakers needs to balance two dynamics: what businesses need – whether that be a supportive tax or regulatory framework – and what they can offer. The offer could be innovation that makes it easier for the UK to meet its Net Zero objectives, or it could be jobs. But critically it needs to go beyond narrow business interests and fit into the government’s political agenda: supporting ‘levelling up’ and promoting Global Britain, for example through exports.

Crucially your approach needs to be about talking to more than just BEIS. The shift of industrial strategy policy from BEIS to the Treasury enhances their existing interest in how innovation supports regional investment, and the policy frameworks required to achieve this. But other departments beyond the Treasury can also play a key role as champions for a supportive policy environment and will be keen to hear what you have to say, be that the Department for International Trade on exports or MHCLG on ‘levelling up’ and investing in communities.

 Communities

Net Zero has dovetailed with the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda. There is a drive to root the transition to a low carbon economy in particular places. The focus on Teesside and the Humber reflects the Conservative Party’s electoral priorities as well as the contribution these areas can make to decarbonisation – in both cases decarbonising industry and as hubs for offshore wind development.

Businesses need to reflect this in their communication. But just suggesting that green innovation will lead to investment in these regions is not enough. It needs to be specific: what will this mean in practice for people living in these places? How many new or higher skilled jobs will be created? How will this investment support local young people – through training – to access high-skilled, long term jobs? How will it upskill existing employees or help them transition from jobs in high carbon sectors to new ‘green’ industries? How will this improve the local communities, high streets and living conditions of people there?  People like Ben Houchen, the Metro Mayor for Tees Valley, are important advocates to have in making this case, but ultimately you need to be persuading local people and not just their elected representatives.

Employees

The transition to Net Zero means significant opportunities, but it also means change for some parts of the energy sector. This is likely to lead to uncertainty for those working in these sectors, particularly in oil and gas. By explaining to their employees what the transition is likely to mean for them and how they plan to help them benefit from these opportunities, employers can show empathy and demonstrate they genuinely understand people’s concerns. This may require reskilling or a focus on training. Employers can tell a story to their staff about how the transition will bring value to them not just the planet or the UK economy more broadly. Importantly, employees aren’t just workers but they are also consumers, part of local communities, and possibly even shareholders in the businesses they work for. Your employees can be your greatest advocates.

 Shareholders and investors

The rise of the ESG agenda highlights that investors recognise the importance of Net Zero. However, the policy and regulatory developments to drive progress towards these targets will still likely to lead to questions for them. Much of the policy detail in certain areas of energy decarbonisation is still to be defined; in some areas there are still more questions than answers. Businesses in the energy sector are having to manage this ambiguity and are seeking to provide clarity to investors as to what the likely pathways to Net Zero are.

In heat decarbonisation for example, government has been careful to date to be seen not to pick technology winners. This could leave shareholders unclear of the implications and therefore at risk of making the wrong choices. It makes it even more important for businesses to paint a picture of the opportunities and risks, and to interpret what policymakers’ choices will mean for them. It’s a circular process: your conversations with investors provide insights to share with policymakers on how best to unlock private capital and investment through a well-designed policy framework.

Concluding thoughts

 

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What can we expect from the Transport Decarbonisation Plan?

The responsible Minister, Rachel Maclean MP, recently said the Plan will put transport on a path to delivering its contributions to carbon budgets and net zero by 2050. Expected to be published in the Spring, not only will it take a “holistic and cross-modal approach” to decarbonising the entire transport system, but it will also set out a “credible and ambitious” pathway to cut emissions.

Below we look at some of the main themes and challenges it will need to address.

Innovation and technology

As a core pillar of the UK’s Industrial Strategy, innovation is key to decarbonising transport. This is already happening; from large scale electric vehicle infrastructure funding and roll out, to the UK’s first Battery Industrialisation Centre as part of the Faraday Battery Challenge. As such, the Plan is likely to include continued funding and participation in these types of initiatives to ensure progress towards net zero is maintained. Covid-19 has meant many major investments in research, technology and development have stalled. This cannot persist if transport is to be decarbonised and so the Plan is set to offer incentives that will stimulate private investment.

Making the UK a hub for green transport technology and innovation is a strategic priority for the Department for Transport (DfT) and, arguably, the most important for full-scale decarbonisation. Covid-19 has seen the emergence of new forms of mobility solutions like e-scooters, for example, now in the process of being legalised on roads for the first time in the UK. However, questions remain over the extent to which they can fit seamlessly into an already well-established transport eco-system. For example, the evidence on the extent to which e-scooters are encouraging genuine modal shift is patchy, as is the argument they offer reduced emissions given their poor green manufacturing credentials, according to a recent study by North Carolina State University. These are exacerbated when e-scooters are vandalised or destroyed because of leaving them undocked on pavements.

Supporting the shift to electric

Other technologies like electric vehicles and their charging infrastructure are expected to feature heavily in the Plan. To date, roll out of this infrastructure has been patchy and either regionally or locally led, with the levels of success varying considerably. The Plan will need to set out much more strategically how increased roll out will happen, with strong leadership from the DfT to ensure there is sufficient provision ahead of expected demand.

Last year saw the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles brought forward from 2040 to 2030, and potentially even sooner according to Grant Shapps. However, the timing of the ban is not as important as the context in which it has been set. Affordability of electric vehicles and availability of its infrastructure is still a major issue. Recent funding commitments have helped businesses with the cost of installing rapid EV charging points and given consumers the confidence they need to purchase one. For example, the Rapid Charging Fund and the recently announced additional £20m for on-street charging.

However, there is pressure on the government to go further and faster and so it is likely the Plan will set out more details on how the EV charging money announced to date is to be spent exactly. Similarly, the Plan might also include new subsidies to help make EVs more affordable. In any case, ensuring consumers have a genuine choice is paramount and will necessarily involve making EVs a practical alternative to internal combustion engine vehicles through ease of use and cost. The new DfT consultation on the consumer experience at public EV charge points and the recent CMA market study in to the EV charging sector is a good indicator of how much the government is prioritising this area.

Reducing emission through modal-shift

The Plan is also likely to include a focus on changing people’s travel habits, reducing their overall miles travelled in privately-owned vehicles, for example, which emit more emissions than public transport or micro-mobility solutions. We can therefore expect a doubling down on active travel ambitions through the creation of even more safe cycling and walking infrastructure.

Public transport

Active travel will not decarbonise transport on its own. Beyond this, there will still be ambitions for a modal-shift back towards public transport. This must be affordable, accessible, and reliable, which, often, is not the case outside of London. The Plan will need to bring forward policy and fiscal measures to restore public confidence in public transport, alongside actively promoting and incentivising more sustainable forms of transport.

For example, in rail, the continued use of diesel train fleets has meant the network is losing its edge as a green mode of transport. To decarbonise the rail network by 2040, diesel trains must be removed to make way for new, innovative, zero-emissions fuel/propulsion systems. Network Rail’s interim plans propose significant expansion of overhead electrification of the rail network from 38% today to 90% by 2050. But this is yet to be formally backed and adopted by Ministers and would come with significant cost attached. There is likely to be an important role for alternative technologies such as hydrogen and battery electric trains. However, with the industry currently in flux, undergoing structural changes in light of Covid-19 and in anticipation of the Williams Review, industry will be keen to see a clear plan that provides certainty and incentivises innovation.

Existing electrification programmes should be expedited, and more support given to the introduction of zero-emission technology such as hydrogen fuel cell trains and battery electric trains to stimulate the market for alternatives to diesel trains and make the UK a leading manufacturer, particularly now we have left the EU.

As the Minister says, the Plan will be holistic and cross-modal, meaning its scope will likely be vast. The Plan will lay down a marker and signal only the start of the transport decarbonisation process, not the end.

As such, though the window of opportunity to influence the Plan itself is fast running out, there will be several other opportunities to influence its implementation through additional consultations or working groups that are set up.

WA is in a unique position to help organisations make sense of the Plan and make their case to government for proposals that help accelerate transport decarbonisation. For further information or to arrange a call, please contact:

Marc Woolfson, Partner and Head of Public Affairs: MarcWoolfson@wacomms.co.uk.

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What can we learn from the proposed NHS Standard Contract for 2021/22?

What can we learn from the proposed NHS Standard Contract for 2021/22?

NHS England has published a consultation on its proposed changes to the NHS Standard Contract for the financial year ahead. The final document will be used by Clinical Commissioning Groups and NHS England to contract for all healthcare services bar primary care. The focus of any changes often provides important insight into system priorities for the coming year and the strength of conviction behind them.

With 2021/22 set to be another uniquely testing year for the NHS, one might expect measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 to dominate the contract. Instead, there is a sense of defiant ambition, with clear signals for providers to push on with other key NHS and government priorities.

With this year’s consultation now live, here are four key takeaways for the year ahead:

 

1. Don’t get left behind as the NHS pushes on with system transformation

The Contract for 2021/22 shows that NHS England is not letting up in its push for system transformation. It includes several steps to establish more collaborative relationships between commissioners and providers, the most symbolic of which is the removal of financial sanctions for providers that fail to achieve national standards.

This is a significant step towards reversing the transactional, almost adversarial relationship that has proliferated between commissioners and providers over recent years, instead encouraging more collaborative system-level action to identify and address the causes of poor provider performance.

The cogs of system transformation are well and truly turning again so engagement with NHS leaders will need to focus on how to support the achievement of their newly framed outcomes in the most direct way. Additionally, the prospect of major health legislation is looming large for the first time in almost a decade, providing an important opportunity to think bigger picture.

 

2. Get serious about delivering ‘Net Zero’

In October, NHS England published its report on Delivering a ‘Net Zero’ National Health Service, which set out the interventions required to achieve just that, ‘Net Zero’. Yet, the report itself had no legal standing on which to enforce its recommendations or incentivise action.

The inclusion of stronger targets on the reduction of harmful greenhouses gases and air pollution in the proposed Standard Contract for 2021/22, and a requirement for providers to identify board-level officers accountable for delivering ‘Net Zero’ commitments, is a clear indication that NHS England is serious about driving this agenda forwards.

The NHS will increasingly expect everyone who works alongside it to demonstrate that they are also serious about reducing their environmental impact. Medicines, medical devices, services and care pathways can all be made more sustainable. Clearly communicating what you are doing in this space could start to deliver a commercial advantage as pressure builds on providers and health systems to make rapid progress.

 

3. Offer a helping hand on health inequalities

Commitments to reducing health inequalities have been somewhat of a stalwart in NHS policy over recent years. The delivery of coordinated programmes at a local level that actually move the needle have not been so common. This was brought into stark relief by the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds.

To create greater accountability at a local level, it is proposed that the Contract include a requirement for each provider to identify a board-level executive responsible for overseeing their actions to address and reduce health inequalities. With broader government and public focus on health inequalities brought on by COVID-19, the pressure on these individuals to demonstrate progress will be palpable.

Those working alongside the NHS should place increasing focus on how they support providers and health systems to address health inequalities. At a time when resources are stretched, we may find that some are actually more open to industry support in delivering staff training programmes, new capacity or improvements to patient pathways, but they’ll have to be able to justify the time investment. Demonstrating how you can contribute to reducing health inequalities could help to secure support for your joint working projects.

 

4. Communicate the benefits of remote consultations and management

Following the rapid up take of video and telephone outpatient appointments during COVID-19, the NHS is now trying to cement their use into everyday clinical practice by requiring all providers to offer patients (where appropriate) a choice between remote and face-to-face consultations. The hope is that this choice will be maintained in primary care too, where uptake of remote consultations has also rocketed.

However, to truly support clinicians and patients to select remote consultations in the long-term, the NHS will need to place additional value on health technologies that support effective remote monitoring and management.

Before some slip back into old habits, the wider health sector can play a role in crystallising broad clinical support for this new way of working. Arming your field force and spokespeople with clear, real-world evidence of how your technology is reducing the need for labour intensive, face-to-face clinical interventions could provide clinicians with the confidence to continue their transformation.

 

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A promising start with more to follow: The Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan and next steps for business

The Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan on a ‘green industrial revolution’, published last week, can be read as a statement of intent to accelerate the move to a net zero economy, create green jobs, and spur on the levelling up agenda. It shows government’s thinking on the future of sectors which will play a key role, from energy to transport and housing. But how will this vision be implemented and what does it mean for businesses in these sectors? WA this week hosted a webinar with policymakers and industry experts to explore these questions. Caitlin Fordham shares our key takeaways on the plan and next steps:

It’s in the detail, and the detail is still to come

The Ten Point Plan has been widely welcomed as providing clear policy and regulatory signals to the sector. Having deadlines for roll out will spur innovation, but a more detailed policy framework is now required – and expected – to provide greater clarity on how this vision will be delivered.

From developing the first hydrogen town to bringing forward, by a decade, the ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars, huge questions remain over how exactly these flagship commitments will be delivered.

Before the end of 2021, we expect a string of strategy papers and consultations – from the Energy White Paper and Net Zero Strategy to the Transport Decarbonisation Plan – which will go some way to answering these questions. However, not every question will be answered right away.

In responding to these, businesses can shape what comes next and the direction of travel that the UK’s policy framework takes. This means laying the groundwork now and thinking about what you’ll need to do at each stage to get the outcome you need. It is about making consultations work for you and using them as a platform to set out a wider narrative beyond engaging on technical specifics.

Who pays for it and where does the money come from?

Tackling climate change will require significant government investment at a time when the pandemic response has taken its toll on public finances. The IPPR has estimated the government will need to spend £33 billion a year to reach its net zero target, but this package amounts to just over a third of that figure at £12 billion. The plan represents the start of a battle between Number 10 and Treasury on how the green industrial revolution is funded.

While Number 10 wants to be bold on climate and environment, and sees this as a political priority, the Treasury is cautious about committing to significant public funding at a time when finances are stretched. The government is betting on regulatory and policy signals – such as bringing forward the 2030 ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars – to open-up significant private sector financing in support of its ambitions. By providing some kickstarter funding in specific areas alongside setting targets and creating new market frameworks for heat networks, for example, the government will hope it can provide consumers, businesses and investors with confidence and spur innovation.

In the context of this week’s Spending Review, the Treasury will need to consider how much more public money can be pumped in to top up this plan and which regions and sectors should benefit. It will also need to consider ultimately where this public money comes from. Road pricing or an end to the fuel duty freeze are options to free up cash to spend on developing EV charging infrastructure. The Net Zero Review – expected next year – will analyse the range of choices for funding the transition and set out greater clarity on the balance between taxpayers and bill payers. Businesses should keep this front of mind and consider what is realistic to ask for and how your proposition can create value for government.

Return to the levelling up agenda

You cannot read this plan without having the government’s commitment to ‘levelling up’ at the front of your mind. The plan places at its heart regions and communities which the government has promised to level up, including the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber, Scotland, and Wales. By delivering for these communities the Prime Minister will hope his party can retain non-traditional seats won at the last election.

Place is critical for the government’s wider agenda and you can see that reflected in the plan. The plan roots policy promises in terms of outcomes for communities across the UK, from coastal towns to industrial heartlands.

This is evident through the focus on creating high-skilled, green jobs in areas like the Humber and Teeside. To get there, we will need to see a comprehensive strategy on skills and reskilling, which will likely form another ‘reset’ announcement. Government will need businesses’ buy-in as part of this. It will not just be enough for the energy sector to show how it is achieving net zero; it also needs to communicate how their plans support government on jobs and wealth creation in these areas.

What does this mean for business and what should you do about it?

• This is just the start and there is a long road ahead which will involve a flurry of activity and detailed policy processes. Plans are not yet set in stone but what we have seen are statements of intent which now need policy and regulatory frameworks to bring them to life. Now is the time to start developing your narrative and building relationships with key stakeholders. Policy does not write itself and there are a series of milestones before decisions are made. You will need to engage across these milestones, from informal meetings to formal consultation responses, to ensure outcomes support your objectives.

• You need to show government how you can solve problems. You need technical detail and data to support your arguments, but you also need to tell a positive story about your business and frame your asks as wins for government based on its various agendas, from levelling up to net zero. Look at offshore wind – one of the biggest winners in this plan. This is a direct result of the industry’s ability to showcase how they not only help decarbonisation but also support jobs and UK export.

• You should build alliances now that will support you in developing support across government. Net zero and decarbonisation do not simply sit in one department. For example, you may need final sign off from Number 10, funds from Treasury, and to brief officials in teams across different departments. You may also need to bring industry and consumer groups along with you. To be successful in this, you need to make sure you’re talking to the people that will be shaping decisions that impact you and start the groundwork now.

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Navigating the new normal for transport in a Covid-19 world

“The fundamentals of travel are not going to change in the sense that people will begin to return to work, things will slowly return to normal. What will change is what this ‘normal’ looks like”, Robert Largan MP, member of the Transport Select Committee remarked in his opening statement for our recent webinar ‘Navigating the new normal for transport in a Covid-19 world’.

Alongside Robert Largan MP, our webinar heard from a panel of industry practitioners who contributed their unique perspectives on what the changing landscape for transport might look like, including:

A flavour of the most interesting points arising from the discussion is captured in brief below, but if you would like to watch the Webinar in full you can register for the link below, or to speak with us about any of the points raised, please do get in touch.

 

Impact of Covid-19 on public and active transport: accelerating change

 

The crisis has brought into sharper focus a number of challenges that were already facing the UK’s transport system and thrown plenty more into the mix.

Covid-19 has hit the railway hard. Social distancing measures mean many parts of the public transport system will be limited to 15-20 per cent of normal capacity for some time, forcing the introduction of Emergency Measures Agreements (EMAs) in place of existing franchise arrangements. This sits against the backdrop of the Williams review with major reform already on the cards. The government may now have the option of simply evolving the EMAs into whatever arrangements follow Williams, possibly having to take on additional revenue risks. Williams has understandably been delayed but is still expected to land later this year and reforms to the railway will now need to factor in that travel patterns may have changed for good. For example, there will be debate over the extent to which government should now focus on punctuality rather than capacity given the reduced number of passengers.

There is a more positive story for cycling with Covid-19, reinforcing the importance of active travel. It has proven that active travel is both desirable and favourable, and when people feel safe – in the infrastructure, equipment and confidence – to cycle, they will do so. In fact, it is fair to say that cycling became the nation’s default transport mode in the height of this crisis. The key question remains of how to embed these positive changes on a permanent basis. Government’s active signposting towards the Cycle to Work scheme has highlighted the importance of promoting more active travel. The industry is now calling for more infrastructure to go alongside this demand-side policy measure, including more dedicated road space for cycling.

In both areas, the current crisis has had major short-term impacts but has also underlined the case for change in the medium term.

 

Mode-integration and data sharing: digital connectivity is key

 

The UK is not very good at using data, and a more joined-up travel system is essential to the levelling up agenda which remains important.

The transport data that we have available could and should be used more successfully in order to ensure we develop a more connected and integrated system, incorporating more active travel and greater cycling and walking infrastructure. We can also put it to better use via traffic management, for example, or through the development of better and even more integrated mobility as a service platform. It’s now not hard to imagine a world where real-time data allows the public to plan journeys with far more information at their fingertips; from traffic flow and congestion information to the availability of electric car charging points or the location of the nearest e-scooter or bike available from sharing schemes.

Clearly for this vision to become a reality there is much to do. The integration of electric vehicle charging hubs into a multi-modal model will be key, as will the development of the necessary digital infrastructure that can facilitate the necessary exchange of data. The rollout of full-fibre broadband is important not just for connecting individual homes and businesses, it also provides vital backhaul for the development of 5G connectivity and will enable the development of smart transport networks.

 

The role of local government: the benefits of devolution

 

The panel were unanimous in the view that more devolution is generally positive for transport.

The complexity of the challenge facing the industry means there is not going to be any one size fits all approach. The role of metro mayors will be important as they can create local transport solutions that work for their area but they can also learn from each other and encourage greater innovation by trialling different approaches in different areas. One point it will be important to remember however is the need for cooperation across different regions. There are many who will commute into the cities run by metro mayors but live outside its boundaries and they must not be forgotten.

We learned that in the coming months, the Transport Select Committee will be taking evidence from metro mayors about how they handled public transport throughout the crisis and their plans for the future of transport.

 

Looking to the future: Beyond Covid-19

 

The overall feeling of the panel was that we shouldn’t simply return back to the status quo. Covid-19, whilst causing major disruption, has given us an opportunity to do things differently, and any recovery package needs to cement this change. There was an emphasis on the need for a ‘green recovery’ which promotes cleaner, greener, more sustainable transport at its heart.

Whatever the Covid-19 recovery looks like, what is certain is that it is going to come up against Brexit, the US/UK trade talks and many other factors that will have an impact on the security and future of the transport sector as a whole and the automotive sector in particular. This will have an impact in terms of talent, data, research and development and production.

The industry is coming up against multiple challenges on all fronts, it needs to be prepared and ready to embrace the changes coming.

 

 

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Energising our way to a recovery: How have priorities in the energy sector been impacted by COVID-19?

In recent weeks, the outlook has changed for every sector of the UK economy and energy is no exception. WA takes a look at how government and Ofgem have responded to the COVID-19 crisis, whether their priorities have changed and the emerging opportunities for businesses in the energy sector.

Where are we now?

April should have been the month that the government sold us their vision for the energy sector, yet they have been forced to postpone the release of their White Paper to focus efforts on ensuring consumers are protected during the ongoing pandemic. Similarly, Ofgem should have been actioning its work programme, but they are now working with companies to keep essential services running.

The challenges faced by the government and regulators are profound, but that does not mean that pre-COVID-19 pledges will simply fall by the wayside. Instead, they are even more important to securing the UK’s economic recovery. At some point in the near future, the government’s focus will shift towards rebuilding lost momentum. Companies should prepare to take the opportunity to shape the energy sector’s future policy environment.

COVID-19 shouldn’t be an excuse for failure by energy companies, says regulator

During a recent Utility Week webinar, Ofgem Chief Executive Jonathan Brearley stated that COVID-19 should not be used by energy companies as an excuse for failure. In particular, Brearley noted the energy sector was too timid in how it supported consumers during the financial crash in 2008, and now is not the time to repeat similar failings. The regulator is going full steam ahead with its plans to decarbonise the economy and will be delivering the new RIIO-ED2 framework as planned, though this will be reassessed if the outlook worsens. Overall, Ofgem is being pragmatic and trusting companies to do the right thing by their customers, and it’s clear they see the road to net-zero as a fundamental step towards securing the UK’s economic recovery.

In the weeks ahead, Ofgem will be reviewing its work programme in light of COVID-19. This is an opportunity for the sector to re-engage with the regulator and demonstrate what support is needed to help businesses impacted by the virus and fulfil the regulator’s plans.

Fresh ideas and a new Chair for the BEIS Committee

Keir Starmer’s appointment of Rachel Reeves as the new Shadow Chancellor of the Duty of Lancaster means the chairmanship of the BEIS Committee is vacant.

As Labour MPs compete for the role, the Committee is inviting comments on issues it should investigate over the course of this Parliament. At such an important time in our country’s history, the Committee will be looking at suggestions beyond the response to COVID-19, which will be covered by a myriad of inquiries. Instead, they will be looking to the sector to offer insights into business areas the UK needs to strengthen if it is to thrive in the new digital, carbon-neutral age.

Energy White Paper will return

We understand that the Energy White Paper, which has already been delayed on several occasions, will be delayed further as a result of the ongoing response to COVID-19.

While this is frustrating, as it will provide crucial insight into the government’s policy direction on the retail market and reaching net-zero, this presents an opportunity to influence and feed into a document which is further away from completion than widely thought. With much of the country confined to their homes, now more than ever the government will be looking to industry for answers. For example, the government’s manifesto included commitments to introduce new measures to lower bills and invest in clean energy solutions to reduce carbon emissions. While detail around these measures is light, the delay to the White Paper is a good opportunity for the industry to shape what activity in these areas should look like. This will be even more important as the government considers the role of the energy sector in the UK’s economic recovery.

So, what does this all mean for the energy sector?

We have a government with a fresh mandate and a new Chief Executive at Ofgem, both of whom will want to make a bold start to their tenures which will go a long way to securing their legacy.

As the country shifts towards its plans for economic recovery in the weeks ahead, the energy industry has an opportunity it never expected – to help the government and regulator overcome the COVID-19 crisis and help achieve their shared goal, which remains unchanged: to achieve net-zero by 2050.

Those companies able to start that forward-looking process, to demonstrate how they can protect consumers and offer solutions to support decarbonisation efforts, stand to benefit a great deal from their ability to shape the policy environment in the months and years ahead.

WA is supporting organisations across a range of sectors in their response to COVID-19 – whether it is engaging with government and regulators or helping to manage their reputation at this critical time. Please get in touch if you would like to learn more about how our experienced consultancy team can help your business.

 

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Turning up the heat on climate change policy

There’s a new kid on the block in UK politics. Climate change and the demand for radical, green policies has burst onto the political stage and into our discourse in recent weeks. This has been driven by the Extinction Rebellion protests which took over London in a huge display of civil disobedience, capturing the eye of the media and dominating the debate as MPs returned from recess.

Research by Greenpeace found that two-thirds of people in the UK recognise there is a climate emergency, and 76 per cent say they would cast their vote differently to protect the planet. Once Brexit has been dealt with (or kicked sufficiently into the long grass), and as parties begin posturing for a general election, will climate change feature as a primary focus of the Conservative Party’s agenda?

Labour have already staked their ground. Keen to talk about anything but Brexit and focus on bashing the Tories on austerity, Labour have linked their green policies to their narrative of protecting workers and ensuring fair outcomes. Labour’s headline economic policies – such as nationalisation – are also underpinned by a criticism that companies are not doing enough to protect the environment.

Tackling climate change with a radical shift towards a clean, green economy fits perfectly into Labour’s narrative, but it is less of a natural fit with the Conservative’s.

Yes, the government’s Road to Zero, Clean Growth and Industrial Strategies outline an ambition and roadmap to follow, signposted by big policies such as banning petrol and diesel cars, and marked by achievements such as the UK running without coal for a week for the first time since the Industrial Revolution. But despite this, they are constantly criticised for not doing enough. The Committee on Climate Change, the government’s official climate adviser, found that current policies are not sufficient to meet existing targets – never mind their new recommendation of net-zero emissions by 2050. 16-year old climate activist and de-facto leader of the new climate movement, Greta Thunberg, also accused the government of “creative carbon accounting” by excluding certain emissions in headline figures.

The Conservatives have never been the party of the environment but, in their time in government, they have certainly now shored up some green credentials – or at least they have a policy record to talk about on the campaign trail. The swell of public attention to climate change, the fragility of the Conservative government, and Labour’s strong, radical alternative, might force a change of tack from the Conservatives.

Ideologically, the Conservatives are simply not willing to intervene in the market with a heavy hand, something climate change activists are calling out for. However, as there has been a growing recognition that markets are not working for consumers, regulation has increasingly become a feature of Theresa May’s government – particularly around consumer protection. Will the next focus of regulation be on markets not working for the environment?

With May’s leadership on a knife edge, the next leader will decide how the party handles the climate question. Reusable coffee cup in hand, Environment Secretary Michael Gove has overhauled his image with a stream of initiatives coming out of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Despite criticism that these policies were tokenistic, Gove has proved his political ability in navigating the Brexit-dominated arena and the Treasury’s austerity spending constraints to push relatively substantive policies out of his department. If Gove, currently standing at 8/1, becomes the next leader he will no-doubt capitalise on this with the environment featuring as a main item of his platform. It is also likely Gove could throw his weight behind another leadership candidate and become an eco-warrior Chancellor – if he doesn’t get distracted.

As for the other candidates (bearing in mind most Conservative MPs have thrown their hat into the ring already) this is less clear. Liz Truss, zealous advocate of the free market, would be unlikely to suggest massive state intervention on behalf of the environment but other, more moderate, Conservatives may rethink intervention and regulation’s role in managing climate change. More broadly, newly promoted Rory Stewart is a proponent of considering climate change in development aid funding – an interest also held by grassroots favourite Boris Johnson. As the leadership contest gains pace, we’re sure to find out more.

With climate change now integral to our political discourse and championed by opposition parties, the Conservative Party will be forced to respond out of political necessity. However, they will certainly face a challenge in balancing a green vision with the pro-market beliefs which underpin their ideology.

But what does this mean for business? While this debate hots up, businesses must demonstrate how they are already facilitating the shift to a carbon-free future and acting in the common interest. In many ways this is already happening, but, as public and political pressure ramps up, businesses are certain to be in the spotlight.

Businesses should capitalise on this new-found momentum to put pressure on government to acknowledge the challenges they face. Those with climate friendly policies and breakthrough technologies must clearly set out their role in enabling both parties’ future vision. Climate change is firmly on the agenda, businesses must adapt or face interventions of varying proportions from across the political spectrum.

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