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Two thirds of councils are on course to miss climate targets

New polling also reveals that more than half of English councils won’t bid for net zero funding because it’s too expensive.

By Megan Kenyon

The landscape of funding for local government is unnecessarily complex. It consists of an array of pots of money allocated for different purposes, which councils can bid for from central government. It’s an unpopular way of allocating funding, and has even been criticised by the Levelling Up Secretary, Michael Gove, for its complexity.

A new poll from the Local Government Association (LGA) has found that two thirds of councils are not confident in hitting their climate targets, with a sizeable portion of them putting this down to “a bureaucratic system of bidding”. The polling was compiled from a survey sent to 317 council climate officers, and received 87 responses, with an overall response rate of 27 per cent.


According to the LGA’s polling, one in four councils said they are generally unsuccessful in bidding for net zero funds. A further 60 per cent said they had been dissuaded from bidding into a government fund because of the time and resources needed to write bids, and over 80 per cent said they are concerned there is an excessive bureaucratic burden tied up with national funding pots.

According to the campaign group Climate Emergency UK, 83 per cent of councils have declared a climate emergency. Outside of their own climate targets, nine in ten councils in the LGA survey do not think that central government has an adequately financed plan to deliver net zero by 2050. Nine in ten said they did not think the funding on offer for councils to achieve net zero “allowed their council to sufficiently fund their net zero strategy locally”. Almost three quarters (73 per cent) of respondents said the bureaucracy and uncertainty of government funding is proving unattractive to private investors.

A further 76 per cent said they are concerned that their ability to deliver their council’s net zero projects will be impacted by inflation, with almost two thirds (61 per cent) saying they had been dissuaded from submitting bids to net zero funds due to the investment required to develop proposals.

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[See also: Local authorities warn they have “little choice” but to raise council tax]

The LGA survey also revealed that 43 per cent of councils have had to return government funding due to not being able to deliver projects within the restrictions set by a national scheme. Only half of councils said they “generally feel successful in bidding into national funding pots”.

Darren Rodwell, the LGA’s environment spokesperson and leader of Barking and Dagenham Council said councils’ net zero innovation is “being strangled by the national approach to the transition”. Rodwell added “local areas could deliver net zero quicker and for less money”. He called on central government to empower councils to do so.


Climate Emergency UK scores councils on their performance in tackling the climate crisis. Speaking to New Statesman Spotlight, Isaac Beevor, partnership director at Climate Emergency UK said the “average score of 32 per cent for UK local authorities” on these scorecards “demonstrates that there are national barriers to climate action”. Beevor pointed to “national policy U-turns” and “short-term, competitive funding pots” that hamper effective long-term climate action. But they are not the only barriers.

Recent research by Climate Emergency UK found “effective climate leadership and governance had the biggest impact on enabling further climate action”. Beevor told Spotlight that one of the most effective actions councils can take would be to “collectively call on the UK government to implement policies and funding to support councils to meet their net zero targets”. Beevor said this could include a “fully funded statutory duty for climate action”.

[See also: Why Michael Gove’s planning reforms won’t deliver sustainable housing]

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