Improving the energy efficiency of the public sector estate will be part of the Treasury’s upcoming pan-Whitehall spending review, one of the department’s junior ministers has signalled.
At a fringe meeting at the Conservative party conference earlier this week, exchequer secretary Robert Jenrick identified greater energy efficiency as key to achieving better value for taxpayers’ money when the Treasury conducts its next review of government spending next year.
He said: “We would like this to be one of the focuses of the spending that the government is doing next year: how to make sure taxpayers’ money is being spent wisely through the lens of energy efficiency.”
“If we build schools, hospitals and public buildings we want commissioning authorities in the first instance to be thinking about what is the most modern, efficient way of building. We would like that to flow through into energy efficiency.”
He added: “I hope the public sector can lead the way and that can flow through into the whole of society.
“Energy efficiency is one of the best value for money interventions that the government can make.
“We always push for value for money, for every pound of taxpayers’ money we want to get the best result: doing energy efficiency is one of the best things we can do.”
However Iain Conn, chief executive of the British Gas-owner Centrica, expressed doubts that the energy efficiency message is getting through to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
He said: “The good news is that Treasury is really listening. The bad news is that BEIS hasn’t got off starting blocks.”
A separate meeting at the conference heard a call for winter fuel payments, which gives pensioners £100 to £300 over the winter months to help with their fuel bills irrespective of income, to be scrapped and the money redirected towards energy efficiency measures.
Richard Howard, head of research at consultancy Aurora Energy Research, said: “That money could easily be redirected to doing something about energy efficiency. It’s not going to win grey votes but the government needs to think big on that.
“We need a big push on energy efficiency: it doesn’t get you all the way there but gets you part of the way.”
And he called for new regulation to improve the energy efficiency of the UK’s new build housing.
“Let’s sort out the basic things. That means we have a set of regulations that at least drive in the right direction.”
Tony Juniper, executive director for advocacy and campaigns at WWF, criticised the government’s 2015 move to scrap the zero carbon homes standard for new build properties just signing up to the Paris climate change agreement at the end of the year.
He said: “The world and science was telling us to up our game and the politicians started to go in the opposite direction. We need to close that gap quite urgently and reinvigorate this area of policy.”