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Boosting the economy and saving the planet

Former TPAS chief executive, now tenant and resident involvement consultant, speaker and commentator Phil Morgan writes about how the Green Deal can provide empowerment, jobs and enterprise and save the planet

Certainly climate change remains high on the political agenda. It’s important too that it remains there. Climate change represents possibly our biggest challenge to ensuring a sustainable future. It can also be an opportunity.

The legacy of the last Government includes a binding commitment on energy companies to contribute to reduce CO2 emissions. Currently we’re seeing a series of announcements about landlords and contractors gaining deals with energy providers under the acronyms CERT and CESP which in principle offer a real opportunity for tenants to be warmer, save money and do something about the planet at the same time.

The new Government has extended the most substantial of these programmes – CERT – until late 2012 and increased the coverage of insulation from 60 per cent to 80 per cent. However this is primarily to cover the interregnum until the new ‘Green D eal’ kicks in. The Green Deal offers a fundamentally different way forward.

AtTP ASI advocated rent increases to pay for improvements in energy efficiency that at least matched the increases. Certainly there have been a number of schemes where such savings are viable, and in some cases, very rewarding to tenants. The Green Deal reflects these principles: allowing occupiers of homes to agree with energy providers’ energy efficiency measures in exchange for this being paid back through increased bills. A ‘Golden Rule’ applies whereby providers have to agree this so long as the repayments are sure to be less than the reduction in bills.

The future is indeed green – suggestions of 250,000 jobs and a new blooming green economy. The energy providers have a key role in responding to the obligation to make the Green Deal stack up for social housing. Yet in the run up to the Green Deal there are three areas where reflection may be helpful.

We have already seen the NHF and CIH acting quickly to ensure landlords explore their options around delivery of the Green Deal and I’d also expect many larger social landlords to seek to act as intermediaries or delivery agents. There are considerable attractions – it keeps control of the work, it
offers substantial opportunity for value for money and potential income for social landlords, presumably keen to maximise revenue in the current circumstances.

This would, however remove one of the central planks of the proposal by weakening the link between occupier of the property and their ‘Green Deal’. Be it through the engagement of tenants through Decent Homes, the range of opportunities for increased involvement tied to service delivery or the enduring co-regulatory approach landlords can offer a real opportunity for tenants. Tenants can agree the work, hold the landlord to account for its effective delivery and scrutinise its effectiveness. This does need to be robust and I suspect all stakeholders will want more than warm words on the effective engagement of tenants.

One of the lessons from the Decent Homes Programme was the importance of building in training, especially for local tenants, well in advance of delivery. Good contractors will want to encourage and support local labour and links with tenants. Good landlords will want to work with contractors and colleges to ensure training is available nice and early especially as unemployment for social housing tenants, as we keep being told, is higher than the average.

Finally what a fantastic opportunity for tenants to actually lead this work. As well as being recipients of the work, and the opportunity to be employed why don’t we find ways to encourage tenants to set up and run their own local enterprises delivering the work in their homes and communities? Empowerment comes in many forms but we have the opportunity to link up the worklessness, environmental and empowerment agendas at the same time.

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