Boris Johnson has been urged to fulfil his manifesto promise to spend £9bn on a huge household insulation programme as his chief adviser tries to shift the spending on to other priorities.
The UK prime minister delighted green groups in November when he committed the Conservative party to “invest £9.2bn in the energy efficiency of homes, schools and hospitals”.
But the policy has been snarled up in a Whitehall turf war after Downing Street chief adviser Dominic Cummings sought to water down the policy.
Mr Cummings has privately argued that the cash should be spent on building homes instead — with insulation a priority for later on.
Now the House of Commons’ environmental audit committee is launching an inquiry into home insulation, warning that without any immediate action the UK will miss its target to meet net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Philip Dunne, the Tory MP who chairs the EAC committee, urged Mr Johnson to proceed with the policy to address the “vast” scale of the challenge ahead. “The government made a powerful commitment in its manifesto to invest £9.2bn to improve energy efficiency of social housing and public buildings but has yet to bring forward policies to deliver this,” he said.
Mr Johnson’s commitment in November included £6.3bn to insulate 2.2m disadvantaged homes, cutting their energy bills by as much as £750 a year.
That would include a £3.8bn Social Housing Decarbonisation Scheme and a £2.5bn Home Upgrade Grant to replace boilers and provide insulation for 200,000 existing homes.
However, when chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled his Budget in March there was only a vague commitment to “reducing emissions from homes” — and no mention of the original £9.2bn manifesto pledge.
Instead, there was only £100m allocated towards heat pumps and biomass boilers through a “Low Carbon Heat Support Scheme” from April 2022 — replacing the existing Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).
There is still enthusiasm for the scheme in the Treasury and Beis, the business department, but several Whitehall figures have blamed Mr Cummings for the deadlock.
One said the Number 10 adviser saw the project as “boring old housing insulation” while another said he was sceptical about the 2050 net-zero target.
Another said Mr Cummings believed new housing was a bigger priority and should take the lion’s share of the £9bn capital spending.
The government’s climate advisers on Thursday recommended a “national effort” to ensure that homes are well insulated but will not overheat in hot weather.
“We need buildings to be energy efficient, water efficient and we need them to be protected against the increased risk of overheating as the climate changes,” said Chris Stark, chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change.
“There’s a manifesto pledge to fund it, the economics stack up. I suppose you could say if you don’t do it now, when are you going to do it? This is a really, really important thing to start.”
Mr Stark said government statistics showed one in five homes overheated, even in a cool summer.
A national energy efficiency programme could be welcomed by the major utilities, which argue it would be a quick way to create employment.
Keith Anderson, chief executive of ScottishPower, one of the UK’s biggest energy companies told the Financial Times: “You can show there would be apprenticeship opportunities, retraining opportunities and new jobs right across the whole of the sector.”