Written evidence submitted by UK2070 Commission (NZG0018)

 

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Introduction

 

The UK2070 Commission is an independent inquiry, into the deep-rooted spatial inequalities that exist across the UK. Its purpose is to identify strategies and policy initiatives to transform the economic performance and social conditions of the UK’s nations and regions, It is chaired by Lord Kerslake who is happy to give oral evidence.

 

The UK2070 Report ‘Make No Little Plans,(February 2020) sets out a 10-Point Action Plan in Annex A, in particular, Action 1 a Spatially Just Transition to Zero-Carbon, which is summarised in Annex B.   The UK2070 Commission has also published a report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic – Go Big: Go Local’.

 

The core concern is that the transition Net-zero must be ‘just’ in terms of its spatial impacts if it is not to end up replicating, or even reinforcing, the current patterns of inequality. Without changes in governance, efforts to transition to Net-zero will always be constrained.

 

The work of the UK2070 Commission draws upon evidence submitted to it, or research commissioned by it. Some of which are particularly relevant to the Net-zero Inquiry, and are on its websiteTwo Masters;  Following the Money ; UK2070 Through the Lens of Local Government: The UK2070 Commission & Bristol’s One City Approach : and The Devo 3.0 Review.             
 

Tackling Climate Change – The Double-headed Crisis

 

Climate change cannot be separated from its wider social and economic impacts. The risk is that the cost of moving to a Net-zero economy will be borne by those who least benefit from economic change. In particular, the risk is that energy, travel and food costs will fall more heavily on those most disadvantaged communities. Meanwhile, continuing the ever-increasing concentration of development in southern England risks growth of journey distances, increasing flooding, water supply shortages, loss of higher-grade farmland and increasing commuting distances.

 

Climate change and spatial inequalities are inextricably linked –a ‘double-headed crisis’. The national goal of moving to a zero-carbon economy must avoid an ‘unjust transition which will merely reinforces existing patterns of spatial inequality. This is critical to the UK’s international commitment to deliver on the UN Sustainable Development Goals and ‘Paris Agreement on Climate Change’ which have been endorsed by the UK Government.

 

The future risks from climate change therefore vary greatly across the UK and a set of national prescriptions would be inappropriate. These issues have been demonstrated in the work of the Committee for Climate Change which shows, for example:

 

Responding to Climate Change - The Double-headed Opportunity

 

In responding to this double-headed crisis it is vital to seize the opportunities created by the new industrial demands associated with a zero-carbon economy (e.g. in terms of energy and products) and transform the impending crisis into a ‘double-headed opportunity of clean growth’, whereby:

 

The scale of these opportunity is highlighted in the Government’s Clean Growth Strategy, for example the UK’s low carbon economy could grow by 11% per year to 2030 – four times faster than the rest of the economy – and deliver over £60 billion in export sales.

 

This potential has been reinforced in the NP11 report which concluded that there is a £2 billion economic opportunity, with potential for 100,000 jobs and a stated target of halving carbon emissions by 2032 through a new Net Zero North partnership.

 

Similarly, there is a need for a double-headed approach to environmental policies’ embedded into a National Spatial Plan, for example:

 

Experience of Responding to Climate Change

 

Central to policy is the need for an explicit spatial dimension in the UK’s plan for Net-zero giving priority to the most vulnerable communities, if necessary, with a dedicated funding regime. This requires a four-pronged approach through specific programmes of action for:

 

There is emerging experience in identifying such opportunities. These seek to harness new industrial demands in transitioning to a zero-carbon economy to support a more balanced economic geography for the UK. For example:

 

The Challenges to Net-zero Governance

 

The challenges to delivering Net-zero are not the lack of ideas or opportunities but the endemic governance problems in the UK which threaten and undermine the action required to ‘shift the dial’ of public policy. It is important to face up to the following challenges to Net-zero Governance:

Rebalancing Central- Local Relationships

 

The balance of central and local governance is of particular significance in delivering Net-zero Governance. The centralisation of power away from local authorities to central government has been persistent process since WWII. The UK is now the most centralised major developed economy, resulting in inappropriate one-size-fits-all place-blind policies in England in contrast to the devolved nations It will continue to limit the capacity for local action, innovation and flexibility in tackling climate change, (refer Annex C). Covid-19 has demonstrated the importance of local leadership. There is a need for a full package of devolved powers open to all local authorities.

 

A change in culture is required to create a ‘parity of esteem’ between central and local government, which is currently missing. As a corollary, there is a need to move to a system based on consistent and strategic programmes of action and reinforcing emerging strategic local and regional partnerships. This is illustrated in the recent consultation report on London and the Wider South East.

 

Key to establishing effective devolution is delivering real fiscal devolution. The principles that could be adopted include:

 

Potential ways forward include:

 

There is also need to make Government Fit for Purpose with New Institutions and Processes. Central government needs to align its actions and provide a framework of support. through:

 


Strategic Institutional Capacity

 

Local strategic capacity across the board is central to the delivery of the Net-zero agenda.

Cross-boundary infrastructure and environmental issues are wider than even the few existing strategic bodies are able to address alone. However, there is a strategic institutional gap in England which is too often filled by central government and its agencies, either directly, or through, for example, the planning appeal processes, often ending on Minister’s desks.

 

Therefore, alongside the weakness of local government and an over-centralised national government, the lack of strategic regional governance in England is a serious barrier to economic growth. To create sound structures for decision making, new arrangements are needed based on the following principles:

 

 

November 2021

 

ANNEX A

The UK2070 10-Point Plan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Changing the Way Decisions are Made

In order to deliver the above actions a powerful ministerially-led cross- government committee needs to be established with a dedicated team, to oversee delivery and embed levelling up, supported by spatial analysis, flexible funding and new measures of success, including a review of the Green Book appraisal methodology on the way major projects and local priorities are funded and assessed.

 

 


Annex B

A Spatially Just Transition to Zero-Carbon

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Action 1 sets out a four-pronged strategy for embedding the eradication of inequalities in the transition to a zero-carbon economy – Just Transition. This could form a key contribution by the UK to the international COP26 United Nation’s climate change summit in Glasgow.

 

 



Annex C

The Need for Sub-National Strategic Powers
(Abstracts from Go Big: Go Local Report)
 

Post-Covid economic recovery will require investment in services across local authority boundaries, The reliance on a ‘coalition of the willing’ will not deliver the most sustainable outcomes nor maximise net zero growth.

 

The need for Sub-national Structures is illustrated by the following examples of policies in UK2070’s 10-Point Action Plan which require new sub-national institutional arrangements: