The National Audit Office today delivers scathing criticism of the Johnson government’s botching of its programme to insulate 600,000 of Britain’s leakiest homes.
In February, chancellor Rishi Sunak forced Beis to axe without notice the Treasury’s flagship Green Homes Grant a mere five months after launch, and with only 10% of its planned £1.5 billion budget spent.
Instigated by the Treasury to boost jobs during the lockdown slump, and offering up to £10,000 in vouchers to insulate homes, the GHG been trumpeted as creating up to 82,000 skilled roles.
Covid-related lockdowns allied to sluggish administration by US outsourcing firm ICF were contributory factors in its failure, the NAO concludes today. Two months after launch, Parliamentary scrutineers concluded it would have taken over ten years at prevailing rates of progress to upgrade the targeted 600,000 homes.
By closure in February, only 5,800 homes had benefitted, not 600,000. Over 3,000 complaints were lodged by installers, trades bodies and applicant householders.
Central to the NAO’s criticisms today though, is the Treasury’s pressure on Beis, and both ministries’ poor comprehension of installer supply chains needed to deliver on the Treasury’s hastily conceived plan.
Sunak’s mandarins gave the energy ministry only 12 weeks to design and deliver the scheme, says today’s report.
The NAO says senior Beis civil servants consciously overruled trade bodies’ objections that resources and certified tradespeople were lacking in sufficient numbers within UK construction. Formal consultation with the trade began only after the GHG scheme was launched.
“Jobs might have been created more quickly in areas that require less specialist skills, such as window and door installation. The initial plan for a two-year scheme would have allowed more time for jobs to be created, but this was rejected by HM Treasury”, the National Audit Office says in a statement.
“Instead, the department chose to proceed to its timetable, even though none of the firms that bid for the grant administration contract thought it was possible to fully implement the required digital voucher application system in the time available”.
Treasury policy ‘made on the hoof’: leading Tory MP
Endorsing the NAO’s verdict, Philip Dunne MP, chair of Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee was equally scathing, “Although established with good intentions, the Green Homes Grant voucher scheme was a policy made on the hoof without proper consultation. A lack of understanding about installer capacity and limitations in the sector from the Government, along with overambitious deadlines set by the Treasury, meant that the scheme was designed to fail to meet its ambitious targets from the outset.
“The NAO’s report is a sobering assessment of the failures in the scheme, which might otherwise have kickstarted the drive to tackle the 20% of emissions emanating from the country’s housing stock.
“I hope the Government will swiftly learn from the errors made in the design and execution of the Green Homes Grant voucher scheme. As my committee has consistently advocated, I trust Ministers will now introduce a simpler scheme of much longer duration, in which both contractors and consumers can have confidence, so we can accelerate our efforts to adapt our homes to achieve Net Zero Britain.’
Beis had claimed factors derailing the scheme included Covid19 restrictions on contractors entering homes. But when Dunne’s EAC committee carried out its own survey of 500 interested parties for its own report, the EAC found no evidence of such fears from householders nor from contractors.
Commenting on the NAO’s findings, Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said, “Once again the government has failed to learn the lessons of previous attempts to improve the energy efficiency of people’s homes.
“Our research shows that previous schemes, including the Green Homes Grant, were complicated and frustrating to navigate, lacked good consumer protections and were too short-term.
“To meet its net zero goals the UK will need to decarbonise 29 million homes. To achieve this once in a generation challenge the government is going to need to give people the right tools. The forthcoming Net Zero Strategy is a key opportunity to put in place the measures to make sure adapting your home is a far more simple process”.
“Cowboy politicians, and not cowboy builders” should be answerable for the much-needed scheme’s failure, in the opinion of Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist at Friends of the Earth.