ECCI Community – Can further devolved powers facilitate sustainable low carbon growth?

Following the Referendum the Smith Commission was set up to deliver cross-party talks and an ‘inclusive engagement process’ to produce, by 30 November, headline recommendations for further devolution of financial, welfare and taxation powers to the Scottish Parliament.

In the lead up to Lord Smith’s report, around 50 members of the ECCI community met to discuss how the findings might effect our work and what further powers would facilitate sustainable low carbon growth, innovation and skills development in the private and public sectors.

The group included students, academics, resident enterprises and members of ECCI’s policy, skills and innovation project teams and was open to all residents.

The overarching themes or areas where the ECCI community believes the Government (Holyrood and/or Westminster) could do more to accelerate the low carbon transition were: 

  1. Support for innovation
  2. Knowledge exchange for innovation
  3. Low carbon skills development
  4. Energy policy
  5. Planning policy
  6. Buildings/built environment policy
  7. Public and community buy-in
  8. Local authorities’ role
  9. Policy instruments

Some of the themes are areas where the Scottish Government (SG) already has responsibility and thus by implication are areas where the ECCI Community believe the SG should change tack or do more. Other themes are reserved policy areas where we think either Westminster should change tack/do more or that it would be better if power were devolved to Holyrood.

Some key discussion points from the themes are listed below:

Support for innovation 

  • Financial support and support services
  • Should we simplify the landscape ( a one-stop-shop) – or should we develop more locally- and sectorally-specific mechanisms?
  • Don’t focus only on projects of scale.
  • Can/should you support small scale innovation or big-impact innovation or try to do both?

Knowledge exchange for innovation

  • Knowledge sharing and active brokerage is important; between communities, city-to-city (cities can be the crucible for innovation even without national action), between businesses and sectors.

Low carbon skills development

  • Vocational training needs to be better valued and resourced; and the modern apprenticeship scheme reinvigorated.
  • Is there a brain drain – at the same time as it seems foreign students are more ambitious and motivated?
  • Low carbon skills gaps identified were: Big data; ICT; Engineering. Equalities (including quotas) measures could be positive. Low carbon leadership for business is needed.

Energy policy

  • We need policy innovation to support the low carbon transition.
  • Particularly in support of more localised energy provision.
  • The current model isn’t working for remote rural communities. Feed in Tarriffs aren’t geographically differentiated.
  • The current market isn’t incentivising the right innovation and investment (e.g. local energy storage or pumped hydro) and removal of incentives for investment in renewables has hit community co-ops.
  • Scottish energy policy is seeking integration of heat, transport & electricity, but this isn’t well supported by thinking at UK level.
  • The divergence between UK and Scottish energy policy implies differentiated powers are needed.  

Planning policy

  • Again, we need policy innovation.
  • Planning policy needs to direct innovation.
  • The planning system needs to be more decentralised.
  • City development needs more focus on low carbon (e.g presumption against greenbelt development).
  • More pubic involvement in planning is needed.

Buildings/built environment policy

  • Solar space heating is excluded from RHI – is there significant untapped potential in Scotland?
  • Housing stock (climate-proofing as far as possible), including efficiency, Retrofitting, conservation principles, planning/ building control and minimum standards in home reports.
  • Zero carbon emission buildings – minimum standards in new construction; the technology exists – need to consider both off site/on site construction.

Public and community buy-in

  • How can community planning partnerships be improved to support low carbon development?
  • How can people take more ownership of issues and policies?
  • Public buy-in needs fostering to support the difficult decisions the Government needs to take.

Local authorities’ role

  • LAs could be ‘redesigned’ with a decision making hierarchy that helps deliver innovation and low carbon outcomes.
  • This subject relates also to Support for Innovation; Planning Policy and to Public and community buy-in.

Policy instruments

  • We discussed a range of policy instruments and their merits. Key policy levers were seen as: business rates – control of rates & application to low carbon e.g. tax from fracking for direct reinvestment in low C economy; other fiscal instruments – e.g. carbon tax; air passenger duty; incentives – here we need longer term certainty;  grants and incentives; demonstrator projects; market creation/mechanisms (such as Green Deal).

The ECCI Community meets regularly in a forum called Carbon Chat Room to discuss the news, events and trends that matter most to our work.

Look out for our reaction to the Smith report findings in December.

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