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Lack of green skills leads to target slide

Whitehall is missing its sustainability targets because the UK lacks the requisite renewables expertise both in and outside government. That was one of the damning conclusions of a recently-published National Audit Office (NAO) report, Building for the Future: Sustainable Construction and Refurbishment on the Government Estate. Auditors discovered that between 2005-06, the majority of Government departments were not carrying out mandatory environmental assessments when building new premises or refurbishing existing ones. Of those that were, only 35 per cent did so on new build projects, and 18 per cent on major refurbishments. The majority of those failed to meet the required ‘excellent’ target for new builds and ‘very good’ for refurbishments. Only 38 per cent of new builds were rated ‘excellent’ and 44 per cent of refurbished projects scored ‘very good’. For all 2005-06 projects, only nine per cent reached the required environmental standards. The report said many civil servants commissioning these projects lacked expertise in sustainability policies, and guidance on sustainability issues was described as piecemeal. Commenting on the findings, Ian Byrne, National Energy Foundation deputy director, said: “There is quite a low skills base in the UK as far as sustainable energy is concerned, and we’ve been working recently with SummitSkills to try and identify where the training need exists.” He refuted the suggestion that the Government was premature in setting itself a target for a carbon neutral Whitehall by 2012 knowing it lacked the necessary skills infrastructure. “I think it is right that the Government should set itself high standards, and that hopefully will then create a demand that will result in people being skilled,” he said. “We are seeing this happening through Government grant schemes, like the Low Carbon Buildings Programmes. Despite its issues it has been effective in persuading a lot more companies to come into on board, particularly in the solar water heating market. It has also been good at getting people trained up so that can, in theory at least, and assuming they can find a grant, deliver a grant-aided installation.” He argued that the Government could create the right skills in the UK, provided it worked on two fronts: “It needs a certain amount of pull from the Government in terms of making sure that its own buildings are much more sustainable and in persuading businesses to provide relevant training courses. “You can put on a training course for a plumber to raise their awareness or skills base in installing solar but if there’s no demand you’re not going to get a very high take-up, so the Government has to work from both ends and has to encourage a demand through its own procurement.” Keith Marshall, SummitSkills chief executive, said: ““It does not come as a surprise to me that the Government its missing its sustainability targets, but it is a disappointment. We had not picked up on the lack of renewables expertise inside Government. However, we picked up the issue, particularly among the installation and commissioning companies. We found that many didn’t have the skills to capitalise on the work that is available.”