White vans go green: Half a million builders and plumbers needed to reach Net Zero

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New research published by UK100, a group of mayors and local government leaders in late September appears to show that a “retrofit army” of nearly half a million builders, electricians and plumbers will be needed to meet the Government’s objective of becoming Net Zero by 2050.

The figures are being published as a cross-party taskforce of 24 Mayors and local leaders, representing 24 million people across England have submitted a proposal to the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to unlock £100bn as part of the Spending Review, which closed on 24 September. The finance should be predominantly met from the private sector with the Treasury pump-priming £5bn via a Net Zero Development Bank.[1]

In total 455,076 jobs could be created or in demand in the construction and property sectors[2]. The construction industry has been one of the hardest hit in the pandemic, with 90% of construction businesses having applied for the furlough scheme, second only to the hospitality sector[3]. In total, over 3 million jobs are expected to be in demand or created as part of a shift to a green economy across a range of sectors.

Essex is the area with the highest number of potential new construction and property jobs – with a total of 12,841 roles likely to be created or in demand. Outside London (64,551 jobs) and the South East (67,467 jobs) the areas with the greatest number of new jobs are the North West (50,380), the East of England (48,427) and Scotland (42,978).

£100 billion green investment
Analysis conducted by UK100 and Siemens, shows that a £5bn investment by the Government could unlock £100bn of private sector investment toward meeting the Net Zero goals by 2050. It includes £40bn for ‘retrofit’ such as energy saving and efficiency in homes and businesses; £10bn for renewables such as solar, wind and biomass; £30bn for low carbon heating such as district heating networks; £10bn for smart energy systems; and £10bn for low emissions transport such as electric and hydrogen vehicles.[4]

The UK Green Building Council has estimated that to achieve Net Zero carbon by 2050, we will need to improve almost all of the UK’s 29 million homes, meaning we need to retrofit more than 1.8 homes every minute between now and 2050.[5]

The new ‘retrofit army’ would be supported to go green with incentives to switch from diesel and petrol white vans to electric vehicles[6], as well as seamless access to electric vehicle charging infrastructure across the UK. There would also be support to encourage public transport use, walking and cycling.

Although the UK100 jobs data is not time specific, a recent report by the New Economics Foundation which interviewed industry experts found that “a period of three to four years was thought to be required to train up the supply chain to full capacity.”[7] Homes are a major source of climate change: accounting for 15% of emissions in the UK in 2018, primarily from natural gas use for heating and cooking[8].

Joint declaration and spending review submission
The joint declaration by the 24 mayors and council leaders says: “The need for an economic recovery package that creates resilience in our communities and reduces carbon emissions has never been greater. The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the fragility of our economic structures, their exposure to external shocks and the need to support people in our poorest communities. We must seize the opportunity to create healthier, safer, greener and more prosperous communities, building in resilience to climate change through investing in the green economy… Adequate UK government investment, ambitious national frameworks and the necessary powers to accelerate local change, would enhance our ability to act in partnership to tackle the threat of climate and to reskill our workforces to set them on a path to a flourishing Net Zero economy.”[9]

The declaration includes a five point Resilient Recovery Declaration which is being submitted to the Chancellor’s Spending Review:

  • a long-term government-led plan to retrofit homes across the country, which are some of the leakiest in Europe;
  • a new duty for Ofgem to support the delivery of Net Zero as part of a renewable, locally planned electricity grid;
  • creating a Net Zero Development Bank to increase private investment in renewable technologies;
  • a commitment to providing seamless access to electric vehicle charging infrastructure across the UK; and ensure UK is world leader in developing low emissions vehicles
  • new powers for mayors and local authorities to deliver Net Zero.

Case studies: New retrofit jobs
A number of new jobs are expected to be created in the construction and property sectors as part of the shift to a green economy. Many of these are outlined in a framework of technical standards for retrofit, known as PAS 2035/2030:2019. These include[10]:

● Retrofit surveyors and advisers. Surveyors and advisers would provide advice to homeowners on how best to reduce energy waste from their houses, on the financial benefits of a variety of retrofit measures and support available.

● Retrofit builders and insulation specialists. Builders and labourers will need additional skills and experience of constructing energy efficient homes, as well as installing the latest insulation in existing homes to reduce energy leakage and meet the highest EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) ratings.

● Retrofit heating specialists. Specialist technicians, who may have worked as gas boiler engineers could install technologies such as ground or air source heat pumps which can convert renewable-sourced electricity into heating and hot water, or biomass boilers which can burn waste timber with low emissions.

● Retrofit roofers, carpenters and electricians. A range of specialist roles will be envisaged in the retrofit industry covering the design and installation of technologies including solar thermal systems; home battery storage and thermally efficient facades, which create an airtight and insulated shell around an existing property.

● Retrofit co-ordinators. The Retrofit Co-ordinator has a key role in ensuring that effective standards are maintained such as the Trustmark accreditation[11] and is involved in all work stages to help reduce risks.

Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council and Chair of the UK100 Resilient Recovery Task Force, said: “With the furlough scheme coming to an end, this country now faces both a climate and a jobs emergency—with both requiring urgent action.

“By investing in nearly half a million skilled and secure jobs as part of the Spending Review, the Chancellor could lay the foundation for a resilient and sustainable recovery across the country and ensure that we have the workforce we need to actually build back better and greener. Local authorities are ready to play our part in helping the country meet its legal Net Zero obligations. We will continue to lead the way, in partnership with businesses and the Government.”

Polly Billington, Director of UK100, said: “From Essex to Edinburgh, the move to a greener economy will create thousands of new jobs. By unlocking private sector investment through a Net Zero Development Bank, we can reduce the taxpayer burden and ensure the money is spent prudently by disciplined allocators of capital.”

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, said: “I have been clear that a strong economic recovery and a green recovery are not mutually exclusive but one and the same. With green investments in jobs, skills, technology and infrastructure, we can create millions of new jobs, boost the economy, tackle inequality and unleash sustainable growth at the same time as tackling the climate emergency. I encourage the Government to do more to invest in green jobs and skills, and to help us power a recovery that leads London towards becoming a zero-carbon city.”

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “There is no hiding from the climate emergency we are facing as a country, and we must do everything we can to tackle this and reach our carbon emission goals. A key part of this will be a green and inclusive recovery from the Coronavirus crisis – one that delivers high quality, well paid jobs in high-tech new green energy sectors. Tackling climate change and providing people good jobs of the future go hand in hand. The UK100 Resilient Recovery Declaration sets out some critical priorities for cutting emissions and securing those vitally important green jobs for the future. That’s why we’re proud to sign-up to this declaration.”

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “We need a new economic model to drive recovery that is based on fairness and building back better. This research shows there is an opportunity to generate thousands of new jobs in a green economy by putting local communities in the driving seat. By working in partnership with businesses and leaders across the country, the Government can unlock sustainable growth.”

Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, said: “Front loading green infrastructure spend will give cities and regions the certainty and stability we need to plan for our recovery. It will enable us to line up the local labour and supply chains, supporting inclusive economic growth, as well as delivering on our climate and ecological goals.”

Councillor Sarah Bunting, Belfast City Council’s UK100 Taskforce representative said: “Covid-19 has led to an acceleration of our action to transition to a zero-emissions economy within a generation. It has focused minds, and led to more partnership working across the city to drive jobs-led growth. However, investment from government is needed to ensure projects at scale are brought forward quickly, either through retrofitting of local housing or stimulus for low-emissions transport. Like many cities, Belfast needs to make a step change towards decarbonisation in this decade. This is a profound challenge but offers substantial opportunities for our local economy.”

Cllr Joshua Schumann, Chairman of Environment and Sustainability committee at Cambridgeshire County Council, said: “Covid-19 has brought challenges to many local government responsibilities and activities – protecting and supporting our communities has had to be our primary concern. In addition to the challenges there have also been opportunities that have been identified in how we can recover from the impacts of the pandemic and how the environment could have lasting benefits from new ways of working.

“Cambridgeshire is delighted to be part of the UK100 resilient recovery taskforce and pleased to add its name to the declaration. Green investment will be an essential part of economic recovery and creating a workforce that can deliver that, with the necessary skills and training, is one example of how we will facilitate it.”

[1] See Editors Notes and p21 of https://www.uk100.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/UK100_Report.pdf £5bn investment for £100bn return: This is based on the typical development cost range of 10-15% of overall capital costs for large scale district heating projects down to 2-5% for more straightforward energy efficiency projects.
[2] England, Wales and Scotland figures. Detailed figures available here: bit.ly/uk100greenjobs (GB regional and local authority breakdowns available). Data derived from Bowen, A., Kuralbayeva, K. and Tipoe, E.L., 2018. Characterising green employment: The impacts of ‘greening on workforce composition. Energy Economics, 72, pp.263-275. Also see Robins, N., Gouldson, A., Irwin, W., Sudmant, A. and Rydge, J., Financing inclusive climate action in the UK An investor roadmap for the just transition. Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. July 2018 and Robins, N., Tickell, S, Irwin, W., and Sudmant, A. Financing climate action with positive social impact. Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. July 2020
[3] https://www.constructionnews.co.uk/financial/constructions-furloughed-staff-down-to-one-in-four-02-07-2020/
[4] See Editors Notes and p21 of https://www.uk100.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/UK100_Report.pdf
[5] https://www.ukgbc.org/news/towns-and-cities-to-work-together-on-home-retrofit-as-calls-for-green-recovery-mount/
[6] https://www.uk100.org/city-leaders-across-country-join-forces-to-call-for-diesel-scrappage-fund-worth-up-to-3500
[7] See p16 https://neweconomics.org/uploads/files/Green-stimulus-for-housing_NEF.pdf
[8] See p12 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/
[9] Full text of declaration in Editors Notes
[10] The roles outlined are derived from UK100 research and the 5 roles outlined in PAS 2035/2030:2019
[11] https://www.trustmark.org.uk/ourservices/pas-2035v