Party Conference season is over – blink and you missed it.

12th Oct 2020


Let me tell you a secret, for the vast majority of MPs attending the Party Conference was at best a chore, at worst, something to actively avoid. So this year would have been great. No seaside retreat in barely adequate B&Bs, because the nice hotels were too expensive and taken by corporate lobbyists. For observers, it also meant no fringe meetings where wine-fuelled firebrands would always say something to capture a headline.

Instead, this year, we had more sombre and serious discussions with a wider audience selection than those willing and able to attend a conference in person. But that didn’t stop some “unfortunate” stories to make their way into the public domain.

One that was relevant to our industry came from the CEO of a large housing association. Given the legal obligation to achieve Net Zero, without a clear Government plan of how to get there and who should pay for it, this CEO took it upon himself to give Ministers a shiver with what was to come. He suggested that the housing stock he manages could be retrofitted for energy efficiency and have heat pumps installed, but the tenants would pick up the bill. Tenant groups and consumer champions have rightly reacted with disbelief at this approach, the least well off, in social housing, having to pay to decarbonise and improve the assets.

Now we all accept that there is a big bill coming for heat decarbonisation – around £500 billion by 2050. But who pays and how, is the key and those questions have never been addressed. Suggesting those in social housing pay doesn’t strike me as being a great vote winner. Almost as popular as a Minister who suggests that repairing a broken oil boiler will be illegal, and the householder forced to replace their entire heating system (and the necessary energy efficiency measures needed to make it work). Bills of over £30,000 compared to two grand to replace a boiler is going to take some explaining.

My main issue though, is that we need fairness across the UK on how we pay for decarbonisation. As soon as inequity shows its face, then the prize of Net Zero is lost. And that is something we definitely can’t afford to happen.

Best wishes

Mike Foster, CEO