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Agenda item

Carbon Reduction Action Plan

To consider the progress achieved in year one of the Council’s Carbon Reduction Action Plan, and the recommended year two action plan and to note the request to Council for a permanent Carbon Reduction Programme Officer post. 

Minutes:

28.1          The report of the Head of Finance and Asset Management, circulated at Pages No. 94-112, provided an update on year one of the Council’s carbon reduction action plan and set out the recommended year two action plan.  Members were asked to consider the progress made to date and to note the request for a permanent Carbon Reduction Programme Officer post.

28.2          Members were reminded that the baseline audit of the Council’s current carbon consumption had been taken to Council in July 2020, along with an action plan designed to achieve carbon neutrality in the Council Offices by 2030, and there was now an opportunity to reflect on the progress that had been made as at the end of year one.  A year two action plan had been approved by the Executive Committee and within that report was a recommendation to put in place a permanent officer to support the carbon reduction programme going forward; having been accepted by the Executive Committee, that would now be a recommendation to Council.  Members were advised that good progress had been made during year one, particularly within the last six months, and the achievements were detailed in Appendix A to the report with particular reference being made to the completion of energy diaries for all operational Council buildings and survey work at the Roses Theatre and the Council’s homeless properties and Horsford Trust properties.  In addition, a number of smaller projects had been carried out such as the installation of new lighting within Council-owned car parks and approval of a cycle salary sacrifice scheme for the Council.  A significant success had been the number of grants attracted with more than £305,000 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) funding secured which would be used to support the installation of a new heating system within the Council Offices later in the year.  Members were informed that 26 tonnes of carbon had been saved within the last financial year which had been partly due to the reduced electricity costs as a result of staff working from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic; however, there had been an increase in gas consumption due to there being fewer people in the offices and no natural heat being generated.  Data was currently being collected from other sites and in terms of business travel for Officers and Ubico and the Climate Change and Flood Risk Management Group met regularly to receive updates on a whole range of work being undertaken.

28.3           With regard to year two, a balanced set of actions were proposed including embedding the carbon reduction agenda within the Council and raising awareness; Tewkesbury Borough Council was not very good at flagging up its achievements but a significant amount had actually been delivered during the first year compared to other authorities.  It was intended to continue to look for further funding opportunities and to update a number of policies as well as casting an eye to the future and what that might mean - there were some big targets which the Council was looking to achieve internally but, at some point, it would be necessary to look wider than the Council Offices so it was important to have that debate about the role of the Council and the implications for funding etc.  The main project for 2021/22 was the heating replacement which would have a significant impact on the carbon footprint and it was hoped to go out to tender by the end of the week. 

28.4          Despite the financial challenges faced by the authority, Council was being asked to approve a permanent Carbon Reduction Programme Officer post.  The Head of Finance and Asset Management explained that one-off funding had been used to support the first 12 months of the programme and that had been used to employ a part-time consultant to get the programme up and running and provide support.  It was hoped that a full-time Officer would be able to drive the programme and take advantage of the various opportunities out there in terms of funding and working with partners.  The Head of Finance and Asset Management and the Asset Manager had both put quite a lot of time into the first 12 months of the programme and that was not sustainable going forward.  This had been discussed with the Lead Member for Clean and Green Environment and it was hoped Council would approve the new post.

28.5          A Member drew attention to Page No. 97, Paragraph 2.3 of the report, which stated that the data for the Council Offices showed a 25% reduction in electricity consumption which was expected as a result of changes to working patterns during the pandemic; however, he noted that electricity would be used by staff working from home so that was not necessarily a reduction in real terms and he asked whether any provision had been made for the Council to reimburse staff for the additional costs they were incurring through home working.  The Head of Finance and Asset Management recognised that any savings were offset by the energy staff consumed whilst working at home; however, as it was not possible to gather data from staff working from home, it could only be acknowledged and presented to be robust.  As things moved forward and some home working became the norm, it would be necessary to put in place measures to bring it into scope.  A decision had been taken not to support staff financially for working at home partly because some staff would be making savings in terms of commuting.  Whilst the general position was that staff would not be compensated for electricity, the Council would support any staff wishing to make a tax claim and that was down to the individual Officers to take up with HMRC.  The Member asked whether there had been any feedback from staff about that decision and he was advised that the majority had been understanding of the position but, as expected, there were a few who would prefer to be paid a weekly allowance.  The Member suggested a formal questionnaire should be issued to staff in order to obtain some solid evidence and the Head of Finance and Asset Management provided assurance that staff would be supported in terms of a balance of home working and bringing them back into the offices.  A number of staff surveys had been undertaken over the last 15/16 months on welfare and wellbeing etc. and the feedback from those surveys had been taken into account.  The HR and OD Manager advised that a survey had been carried out during summer 2020 which had shown that 95% of respondents would like a combination of working from home and from the office going forward and that had been taken into consideration when planning for the way ahead; whilst it was still important to ensure continuity in terms of a staff presence at the Council Offices, it was generally up to individual managers to decide how their teams operated provided it met the needs of the service.  The Member felt there was a need to be cautious going forward as electricity was a work expense which the employer was obliged to pay whereas it was staff who were obliged to cover travel costs; he pointed out that some companies had given a one-off payment to compensate employees.  In response, the Head of Finance and Asset Management acknowledged there would be a whole spectrum of factors to take into account going forward and he provided assurance that the Council was keen to support its employees.  The HR and OD Manager advised that other Councils had been consulted via the South West Councils Network and the course of action taken by Tewkesbury Borough Council was in line with other authorities.  As part of the national pay negotiation, the trade unions had proposed a working from home payment which would be mandated but that had been rejected so would not be considered going forward.

28.6           A Member drew attention to Page No. 106 of the report in relation to the Roses Theatre surveys and asked whether Severn Wye Energy Agency had provided indicative costs when it had conducted the survey.  The Head of Finance and Asset Management confirmed that potential costs had been provided and he was happy to circulate those details following the meeting.  The Member noted that the final item listed in the additional outputs achieved in 2020, set out at Page No. 110 of the report, was ‘electricity bill for Overview and Scrutiny Committee’ and he asked whether there had been any successful outcome regarding that bill. The Head of Finance and Asset Management explained that this had been included simply to reflect the time and input from the Carbon Consultant to support the discussion that had taken place. 

28.7           A Member noted that a Countywide Climate Change Coordinator had recently been appointed and he asked whether Tewkesbury Borough Council was contributing to that post and how it would ensure there was no overlap with the new full-time Carbon Reduction Programme Officer role being recommended to Council.  In response, the Head of Finance and Asset Management confirmed that Tewkesbury Borough Council did contribute to the countywide post, which was primarily about coordination, to ensure the district councils were working closely together, sourcing opportunities and drawing on the strengths of the individual councils.  The Countywide Climate Change Coordinator had only recently taken up the role and was currently collating information but he provided assurance that Officers would be working closely with them to formalise the role and understand how they would be interacting with the authorities.  It was important to bear in mind that Tewkesbury Borough Council was only one of seven partners using the Coordinator so its own work was significant and there would be plenty for the new Officer to do in terms of delivering the action plan and taking opportunities that could not currently be taken due to current capacity.  Both roles would help the Councils carbon reduction agenda and it was possible there may be a requirement for more staff going forward as it was potentially such a huge area.  The Member queried when the job description and remit for the new Carbon Reduction Programme Officer would be available for Members to view and the Head of Finance and Asset Management advised that the Executive Committee report offered more explanation but if Members wanted to see the job description he would be happy to circulate it.  The action plan gave an idea of the main areas of focus and he stressed the importance of embedding the climate change agenda throughout the Council and ensuring all services were taking this into consideration in their day-to-day activities.  Looking at colleagues across the county, the Head of Finance and Asset Management was the only one who was not a climate change officer so it was vital a resource was put in place to power Tewkesbury Borough Council’s ambitions in terms of carbon reduction.  The Chair advised the report had been well received when considered by the Executive Committee and he agreed that the Section 151 Officer should not be the one driving the climate change agenda for the Council; that agenda was so significant that a dedicated officer was essential.  The Member who had raised the initial points about the new role clarified that he agreed that officer was needed but he was keen to understand how they would be used to maximum effect.  In his view, it had been helpful for the Head of Finance and Asset Management to play such a key role thus far from a financial perspective as projects could be properly costed etc. and assurance was provided that the Finance team would continue to have oversight of the programme going forward.

28.8           It was

RESOLVED          That the progress achieved in year one of the Council’s Carbon Reduction Action Plan, the recommended year two action plan and the request to Council for a permanent Carbon Reduction Programme Officer post be NOTED.

Supporting documents: