“Don’t be afraid to copy” and four more highlights from the Scorecards Successes Conference

To reach the UK’s 2050 net zero target, all local authorities need to take serious action across all of their operations. But what exactly should they do, and in what order?

To get the most out of the brilliant data uncovered by the Council Climate Action Scorecards, Climate Emergency UK commissioned Anthesis to research and write a report digging into the characteristics that were associated with high marks. This allows campaigners and officers alike to go to their councils and say: “Start here. These are the most effective actions to drive up our scores, and reduce our carbon footprint.”

The Scorecards Successes report is available to read now, and it was an absolute pleasure to join councillors, campaigners and others in the climate sector yesterday for a really encouraging conference to celebrate its launch.

Here are five things I took away:

1. Good governance generates great scores

As you can see from the table above, appointing a climate portfolio holder is the most impactful characteristic for high scores in the Council Climate Action Scorecards. I loved the way Matt Babic from Anthesis (authors of the report) described effective governance as a T-shape, with the downstroke representing depth of knowledge within a climate team, and the across stroke representing good communication and distribution of responsibility across the council as a whole. For campaigners out there, this might be a good way to start a conversation with your local council  — how effective  is your council’s climate ‘T’ in depth and breadth? 

2. Funding reform is vital

The report recognises that since 2019, councils have spent more than £130 million applying for short term competitive funded pots; time and money that is wasted if they are unsuccessful. This came up time and again throughout the day, and there was consensus across the room. In order for councils to be able to deliver at the pace and scale necessary, national government needs to unlock these barriers to funding and enable clearer, simpler financial mechanisms, which must also facilitate necessary private sector investment. 

3. Devolution deals need simplifying if they’re going to support better climate action

One surprising finding from the report is that authorities that are members of Combined Authorities score lower on the whole than those that are not. This paints a mixed picture for the successes of devolution deals in delivering across their constituent councils. In the final panel of the day, Sandra Bell from Friends of the Earth and co-chair of the Blueprint Coalition, gave some excellent food for thought about the future of devolution deals across the UK. The UK government has promised devolution deals “everywhere” by 2030, which is also the date by which many UK councils have committed to reach net zero. We still lack clarity on the exact form and shape of the deals yet to come, and with a very mixed picture of multiple types and styles of devolution settlements currently in operation, the Blueprint Coalition are calling for clarity, simplicity and scaled up funding to help this new layer of governance really deliver. 

4. Transparency and public engagement aren’t the same thing, but they’re both needed 

At mySociety, we care a lot about transparency, and we’re always asking for better data publication to enable it. Better data publication from local authorities would enable us to make useful climate data more accessible to those who want to dig into it. But publishing data and engaging the public aren’t entirely the same thing. In addition to transparency, councils should be actively delivering public engagement exercises that tackle  the more holistic questions and future decision-making, about how to make the road to net zero a fair one. It was great to hear Cllr Anna Railton talk about Oxford City Council’s residents panel – a great forum for these conversations, and markedly cheaper than a citizens’ assembly. Transparency and public engagement are related, but not the same, and we need both.

5. “Don’t be afraid to copy”

Rob Robinson from Kent County Council made the point that I think underpins a lot of why we think the Scorecards are so helpful. Every council in the UK is working towards net zero, be that to their own target or the UK’s 2050 target, but they don’t have to do it alone. In every section there are high scoring councils, and the evidence of the brilliant policies they’ve implemented are easily discoverable on the site. Let’s not reinvent the wheel: this isn’t an exam, as Rob says —  don’t be afraid to copy.