We have been proactive over fuel poverty

Written by Councillor Toby Sturgis, portfolio holder for strategic planning, development management, strategic housing, property and waste on .

Contrary to the assertions in your article (Fuel poverty is hot topic at meeting with energy minister) I would say that the Council has been proactive about fuel poverty within the county. Before the previous funding arrangements were replaced in January 2013 with the Green Deal and ECO, The Council's Warm and Well Scheme insulated over 1,300 properties.   
Indeed you'll see from our business plan that tackling fuel poverty is one of the things we are committed to.

Having recognised the importance of the Green Deal, the council has been working on a pilot project with a number of other Local Authorities.  

This pilot project builds on our earlier successes and seeks not only to insulate homes in order to tackle fuel poverty, but to maximise the benefits to the local economy.  

This is done through engagement with small and medium-sized enterprises.  It is my firm belief that the success of any large-scale retrofit scheme such as the Green Deal/ECO hinges on consumer confidence.  

There are many hundreds of small building firms operating in the county who are trusted by the communities they work in. We are keen to ensure that these firms have the opportunity to engage in the Green Deal/ ECO scheme as opposed to running a large contract with a company that uses its own contractors.  A more difficult route perhaps, but one that will yield multiple benefits.

It is true that uptake of the Green Deal has been slow, however, this reflects the situation nationally.  The council secured funding from Department of Energy and Climate Change under its Green Deal Pioneers fund to kick start the Green Deal in this area.  

Our own experience from this scheme which funded 80 Green Deal Assessments in 2013 is that none of them have yet resulted in any measures installed.   

It is also true that ECO measures have been focused on quick win measures such as  loft insulation, cavity wall insulation and gas boiler replacement.  The housing stock in Wiltshire (not just Marlborough) is generally older and in areas without mains gas, which means these measures are less relevant.  

The issues raised regarding access to Hard to Treat homes are systemic ones in the way the Green Deal and ECO have been implemented.    External and internal solid wall insulation, replacement electric heating systems and replacement/alternatives to oil fired boilers are more relevant measures in rural areas.

They are also the most expensive, with solid wall insulation averaging between £10,000 and £12,000.  While ECO/ Green Deal were heralded as the antidote to quick win measures, the first year of the scheme hasn't quite worked out like that.     

This has been exacerbated by the recent announcements from Government in December regarding changes to ECO.   This has served to reduce the rates of funding and installs under ECO until such time as the Government confirms its position.   An unintended consequence I am sure, but it is likely that the position won't be confirmed until April 2014.   

In terms of hard to treat homes, there have been numerous pilots up and down the country over many years, we understand what needs to be done we just need the stability in terms of funding to be able to take it forward.   

We would be happy to engage with Transition Marlborough with the existing pilot project currently underway and would be keen to explore opportunities for potential collaboration post April 2015 once these pilots end.

As well as these actions, the council is involved in another pilot project, Project Achieve, which seeks to provide detailed energy advice to vulnerable customers via home visits.   

We are also advocating the Ready to Switch project, which aims to use the collective purchasing power of customers to get a better deal on energy bills. We also won £240,000 funding from Department of Health in 2012/13 for affordable warmth projects.   

You should note that the only reason we didn't apply for funding this year is because the Department of Health didn't make any funds available.  However, we did grant fund the Community Foundation, so that it could continue with its Surviving Winter Campaign which provides assistance to the most vulnerable.