Blog 15th April 2020

Apr 15th 2020, 14:27

Blog 15th April 2020

In this blog, I discuss the coronavirus outbreak and its likely effects on the economy. I argue that strategies to re-start the economy after the coronavirus outbreak should be informed by a forward-looking vision of environmental sustainability and that there is a key role for local authorities. I refer to the OBR, Eden District Council, Committee of Climate Change, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and webinars.

The focus of our attention during this outbreak of coronavirus is obviously on the shocking numbers of deaths that are occurring in hospitals, care homes and communities in all parts of Britain and around the world. If any reader of this blog has suffered a bereavement or is worrying about someone close to them, please accept my sympathies.

However, the outbreak is also having severe economic effects. Yesterday, the Office for Budgetary Responsibility issued a forecast that the British economy would contract by 35% by July causing unemployment to increase to 3.4million; and that while a partial economic recovery should happen after July, the Gross Domestic Product for the whole of 2020/21 would be 13% below that for 2019/20.

This has significant implications for local authorities that will wish to take the lead for re-starting the economy for the communities that they serve. However, it will not be a matter of restoring the economy to where it was in March 2020. The coronavirus outbreak will accelerate economic trends that were already evident and create a new economic environment. For example, people who have switched from shopping in the high street to shopping online during the lockdown are likely to continue shopping online when the lockdown ends thus accelerating the growth of online shopping and the decline of the traditional high street. Also, businesses that are developing digital communications during the lockdown are likely to continue using them when the lockdown finishes; while they and their staff are likely to want to continue with an increased level of home working. Post-coronavirus economic development will therefore be about creating a new economy rather than recreating the old.

Coronavirus may have taken our minds off climate change and global warming but in the medium-term, climate change is still the greatest single threat, not only to humanity, but to all the species on the globe. Like the pandemic it is an international problem that needs to be challenged at the international, national and local levels.

Many local authorities were already addressing this agenda prior to the coronavirus pandemic. For example, Eden District Council’s Corporate Plan for 2019-23 states that:

“We declared a Climate and Ecological Emergency in July 2019. We want to make our operations zero carbon by 2030; encourage initiatives which help Eden district to become net zero carbon; improve biodiversity while protecting our working cultural landscapes and economies. We want to be leaders in shaping a sustainable model for living in changing times and for Eden to become a centre of excellence for the latest green technologies.”

Peasant Wedding Dance by Bruegel. Environmental Sustainability doesn't need to be like this!

Too often, environmental sustainability is presented as a puritanical project to persuade people not to use their cars, not to go on holiday, not to eat meat and not to use plastics. Alternatively, it is presented as being a nostalgic return to a bygone age when happy peasants danced on the village green without having to worry about biodiversity or melting ice caps. However, I think both these approaches are profoundly wrong.

There needs to be a vision of an environmentally sustainable future that is forward-looking and that offers people a high standard of living and new opportunities. A world where people travel in electric cars and trains; communications are global and electronic; homes are well insulated and heated using carbon neutral systems; City centres are pedestrianised, and people choose to walk or cycle to work.

Contrary to what is often supposed, an environmentally sustainable economy would also be a high growth economy. There is much evidence to support this, including:

  • Over the last ten years, growth in the British Gross Domestic Product has been between 1.5% and 3.1% a year while the environmentally sustainable economy has consistently grown at around 5%.
  • Over 200,000 people work in the low carbon and renewable energy economy with many more employed through supply chains.
  • Analysis for the Committee on Climate Change estimated that the low carbon economy has the potential to grow 11% a year between 2015 and 2030 – four times faster than the rest of the economy – and could deliver between £60billion and £170billion of export sales of goods and services by 2030.
  • According to a recent Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy survey, 65% of all 18–24-year olds (3.7million people in Britain) were interested in working in the green economy.
  • The government estimates that the green economy will create two million jobs by 2030.
  • The British cycle industry is worth three times more than the UK steel industry and employs twice as many people. Cycling related businesses currently generate at least £5.4billion a year and provide 64,000 jobs.


We need to use the white-hot heat of the new technology to seize the day!

So, our economic development strategy should be based on creating new environmentally sustainable businesses that offer high value employment; rather than on ‘propping up’ businesses that were already failing before the coronavirus shutdown put them out of business. Local authorities are key players in the local economy, spending over £100billion a year, giving them an opportunity to drive growth in the low carbon goods and services sector.

And local authorities need practical policies that can be adopted now as well as a vision.

So, for example, what could a local authority housing service do? Here are some suggestions:

  • Enforce minimum energy efficiency standards in the private rented sector.
  • Encourage 100 Energiesprong (or similar) retrofits a year - initially in social housing and then rolling out to the private sector.
  • Retrofit council-owned homes to Energy Performance Certificate C level.
  • Require higher than current national energy efficiency standards for privately built new homes.
  • Encourage/enable retrofit of all existing owner-occupied housing stock to Energy Performance Certificate C level.
  • Require homes built on council land to be ‘Passivhaus’ standard or similar (and, if developing new council facilities, ensure they are built to the highest standards such as BREEAM excellent).

Perhaps local authorities should be considering how to address these issues as one of their first steps in re-starting the local economy when the shutdown ends.

During the coronavirus shutdown we are increasing the number of webinars that we offer. Subjects include:

  • Introduction to Local Authority Housing Finance
  • Introduction to Housing Association Finance
  • Introduction to Service Charges in Social Housing
  • Introduction to Local Government Finance
  • Developments in Local Authority Housing Finance
  • Local Housing Companies and Development
  • Business Planning in the Housing Revenue Account
  • Risk Management
  • Universal Credit and Rent Arrears

For further information about all our webinars, or to make a booking, please click here.

If you would like to enquire about future webinars, or would like to suggest any relevant subjects, please e-mail or telephone 017683-51498.

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