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The Policy Ask with Mat Ilic: “We need retrofit subsidies to lower bills and reduce emissions”

The co-founder of the green skills start-up Greenworkx on energy efficiency, Barack Obama and the Online Safety Act.

By Spotlight

Mat Ilic is the co-founder and CEO of Greenworkx, an education tech (edtech) start-up that aims to tackle the green skills emergency. Prior to this, he worked in government, policy and across social impact roles. He was previously chief development officer at Catch22, a social welfare not-for-profit, and before this worked in the London mayor’s office and national government on home affairs and justice issues, such as prison reform and violence prevention.

How do you start your working day?

Willingly or unwillingly I am always up before 6am, and if no one else in the house is awake, then I have a chance to exercise (a run or some stretches, always with a podcast). After that, I am working my first job, which is getting two boys ready and delivered to school!

What has been your career high?

Serving at No 10 as a special adviser is doubtlessly a highlight so far, and specifically, the central role I played in the making of the Youth Endowment Fund [YEF], announced in Autumn 2018. The YEF is a £150m independent non-profit organisation dedicated to preventing youth violence and supporting at-risk young people through research, funding, and innovative interventions.

What has been the most challenging moment of your career?

There are too many to choose from, but all of them, with some hindsight, were moments of great learning and personal growth. Building Greenworkx from an idea to the company it is today is the biggest challenge I have taken on, demanding resilience and adaptation while working through the exciting journey of raising funding, expanding talented teams and managing rapid growth.

If you could give your younger self career advice, what would it be?

I would emphasise that risk-taking and seeking out diverse experiences is the right path to follow. For me this brought a colourful, jigsaw, 16-year career to date, taking me to City Hall, No 10, non-profits, and now Greenworkx. But I wish that my younger self had been more diligent in building strong networks, and intentional about personal growth and development, especially through seeking feedback.

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Which political figure inspires you?

If I had to pick one, it would be Barack Obama. Like some but not most politicians, he had to overcome childhood adversity to become president. He blazed the trail as the first African American leader of the United States, advocated on key social issues like healthcare reform, and projected charismatic leadership. He still continues to champion important causes through his foundation.

What policy or fund is the UK government getting right?

The Online Safety Act, which passed in October. A long time in the making, and not without controversy, it is a groundbreaking piece of legislation that will change the landscape for children online. Applying some checks and balances to social media, though complicated, has clearly become so necessary. I am now also hopeful that the UK will be able to deliver a pro-innovation approach to artificial intelligence regulation in the future.

And what policy should the UK government scrap?

The government should jump on the long-overdue calls to reform the apprenticeship levy – introduced through the Finance Act 2016, effective in 2017. This legislation already grants the secretary of state for education the power to make regulations regarding the levy, including on the use of funds. By adjusting the regulations, the government could create incentives for employers hiring apprentices in shortage occupation roles – for example, permitting employers to use the levy to fund first-year apprentice wages for new starters in critical roles, such as the thousands of electrical installers we need to reach net zero.

What upcoming UK policy or law are you most looking forward to?

I can’t say there is anything specific at this point in the political cycle, but I am hopeful about the prospect of a new government having a proper go at industrial strategy after the next general election. If we are to prosper over the coming decades, we need to figure out how to successfully marry the demands of economic growth, productivity and global competitiveness while living within planetary means, and the goals of net zero.

What piece of international government policy could the UK learn from?

The Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law by President Biden, is accelerating investment in green technologies in the United States. More than $369bn in subsidies also pulls in private investment. Alongside this, the US Department of Energy is placing $150m in its Industrial Assessment Center programme, increasing pathways for workers into high-quality clean energy jobs.

If you could pass one law this year, what would it be?

The energy crisis over the last couple of years saw prices skyrocket, and the government spent nearly £40bn on supporting consumers’ energy bills. Unfortunately, global fuel price volatility and energy scarcity is going to feature more in the coming decades. While new infrastructure such as onshore wind and nuclear will take time, I would legislate for extensive retrofit and energy efficiency subsidies (to return to the 2012 levels of insulation installations of more than two million per year) to lower household bills and reduce UK emissions.

[See also: Growth alone isn’t enough to end poverty in the UK]

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