£1.5bn scheme at heart of Boris Johnson’s ‘build back better’ promise has struggled since launch
Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent Sat 27 Mar 2021 17.00 EDT
The government has scrapped its flagship green homes grant scheme, the centrepiece of Boris Johnson’s promise to “build back greener” from the Covid-19 pandemic, just over six months after its launch.
The abandonment of the £1.5bn programme, which offered households grants of up to £5,000 or £10,000 to put in insulation or low-carbon heating, leaves the UK without a plan for tackling one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
People who have had their applications for vouchers under the scheme accepted will receive any money owed, but no new applications will be accepted after the end of this month.
Green campaigners said the scrapping of the programme – the only major green stimulus policy yet announced by the government and originally expected to create tens of thousands of green jobs – came as a serious blow as the government prepares to host vital UN climate talks, called Cop26, this November.
Ed Matthew, campaigns director at the E3G thinktank, told the Observer: “The demise of the green homes grant is an embarrassment [before Cop26], and a disaster in terms of the UK getting on track to net zero [carbon emissions]. Emissions from buildings and transport have flatlined over the last 10 years. If we don’t have programmes to tackle this, we have no hope of meeting the net zero target.”
The green homes grant has been troubled since its launch last September, after it was announced in July as the central plank of the government’s bid to “build back better” and create new green jobs to help the economy recover from the pandemic. There were more than 123,000 applications for the grant by the end of February, but only 28,000 vouchers had been issued and only 5,800 energy efficiency measures had been installed.
Builders complained of excessive red tape in registering for the scheme, while households found it difficult to access. A US company was awarded the contract to administer the grants, but a Guardian investigation found numerous people unable to get a response. Many people were given conflicting advice, while builders have complained that heat pump installations in particular have been stymied by the rules.
Last week, a select committee of MPs delivered a damning assessment that found the scheme “botched [in] implementation … the administration seems nothing short of disastrous”. Far from creating new green jobs as had been promised, the environmental audit committee found some builders had laid off staff owing to problems with the scheme. The MPs recommended an urgent overhaul.
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