Panel 1 - what's happening? whats working? where's the opportunities
Speakers: Matthew Hamilton, Director, South London Partnership | Andrew Hagger, Head of Climate Change and Sustainability for London Borough of Richmond and of Wandsworth | Jane Mossman, Head of Business Decarbonisation, West London Business, Better Futures | Luan Baptista, Climate Partnership Manager, London Borough of Sutton | Nicola Bradley, Business Engagement Lead | Gosbert Chagula, Co-Founder & Head of Programmes
What we’re going to hear today on this session is about what’s happening, but in particular, what are the opportunities going forward in relation to Net Zero?
You’re all obviously providing support to businesses to meet the challenges that have arisen over the last few years. Just taking a step back for a second – what are the particular challenges that that businesses are flagging to you – maybe the hurdles when it comes to supporting Net Zero and decarbonisation?
If you look overall at corporate sustainability, a lot has happened in the last 10 years. Big corporations are striding to meet science-based targets but the new frontier really is small businesses. The issue they face is that they have several competing priorities, right? They don’t have time, they don’t have the expertise, or there are simply other more pressing problems for them to solve.
We were thinking hard about how we at the London Borough of Sutton can remove some of those barriers and came up with the idea of the business rates discounts, saying, “Here’s an opportunity to focus on some of the core sustainability challenges around your business”. The average discount for businesses to use on their rates is around £5,000, some more, some a little less, but it’s still £5000 in the pocket.
Gosbert, in your meetings in Lambeth, what were some of the business describing as their biggest hurdles?
With Net Zero, the language, first of all, can be quite exclusionary. Simplifying the language around what the obligations are, what’s happening with Net Zero, and what it actually is that we’re asking businesses to do, is one of the biggest challenges.
In some cases, there is also a technological language barrier around the conversation on Net Zero. With some of our programmes at the Start-Up Discovery School, we’re aiming to work with boroughs in terms of offering trials and new technology. Now, there’s a whole legal wave of things that you have to consider when doing it and it’s not easy to do. But, we’re looking to use some of our boroughs as demonstrators – could ambitious high growth companies work in partnership with councils to actually demonstrate products and new services? Because the easiest way to teach anyone something of this scale is to show actually them. When we talk about Net Zero innovation and business, sometimes it’s so abstract that you don’t know what it means until you can see it. So, I think language and also the chance to trial and test technology.
This is something which is a key part of the programme that we’re running – to phrase things simply and allow people to touch, feel and see these new products in action.
I think that they’re all really salient points. We all know what the barriers are – they haven’t changed, right? There’s never enough people, there’s not enough time, enough money, etc. but that has always been the case for our micro and small businesses.
If you were to give a small business one-hundred data points to track and measure their carbon footprint, they’re just going to glaze over and say, “Really? You want me to do that?”
That’s why it’s so critical that we help the businesses that don’t have the resources. We need to help them to understand what their top three things actionable targets could be, along with a breakdown of what they cost, how they could do it, what the timeframes are, etc. and really get them to understand how they could make a difference. For every business, that’s going to be different – it’s going to be different for food businesses versus a creative or digital businesses. But if you can talk to them on their level about the specific industry challenges on those high-priority targets, that might actually empower them to go out and do something about it.
I think that for regular businesses, and I use the word regular because I’m talking about those that are new to the circular economy, it can be quite daunting. When they’re bombarded by the large Net Zero terminology words, it’s easy for them to become overwhelmed. They might think that they have to redesign their whole business, but there are just simple steps that can be taken initially. It’s just all about communicating those steps so that they can begin to visibly see those benefits coming into the business and progressively up the momentum.
So obviously, part of what the South London Partnership is all about is about pushing initiatives where we foster collaboration. Where would you like to see collaboration pushed more to accelerate progress towards our Net Zero objectives?
Universities can play a very strong role in terms of developing funding applications, monitoring progress, evaluating, and measuring impact and so on. However, it’s no secret that universities are not swimming in capacity right now, so support to help us to add capacity to initiatives and then also seek external funding, is fundamental.
Also, and more generally, working with organisations who have boots on the ground would be great too. We already work very close with our local Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and that’s kind of the recipe for successful projects and programmes.
On the retrofit agenda, it’s really important to come together on that because it’s such a core part of meeting Net Zero. Having the partnerships ready in preparation for the retrofit taskforce is incredibly useful and bringing on the communities who are going to be involved as well.
For the most part, it’s people’s houses that are in need of retrofitting, so how does that happen? How do you leverage in some of the financing as well? There is an organisation called 3CI, which is looking at the concept of Net Zero neighbourhoods, so it’s about bringing all of that together – trying to see how we can work together in getting some of those pilots up and running and then also, crucially, scaling them up fast, because this needs to happen now.
Yes, I certainly agree on retrofit. One of the stats is that 650,000 houses in our area need retrofitting – I mean, that is a lot of houses and a lot of skills that are required…
And hundreds of millions, if not billions of investment.
I’d love to see forums like this being built upon and more partnerships between the boroughs. If someone said “Meet me in Twickenham”, my heart would sink – to get here will be a nightmare – it would mean driving across London in heavy traffic and I think that’s a problem which not many people know exist outside of London. They see the DLR, the overground, the Elizabeth Line, and National Rail and think “Oh, London’s got it sweet.”
There are a set of unique problems which the South London Partnership and South London generally can leverage. I always say that the corners of London struggle with interconnectivity travel – same with Northwest London and even East London – there are a set of unique challenges. Woolwich and Twickenham feel like different planets but that provides a unique opportunity, which often doesn’t exist in many cities across Europe or even here in the UK.
Just to plug one of our programmes – we have a retrofit innovation programme where we are trialing early-stage innovations to tackle the retrofit problem. We’d love to talk to anyone who’s interested or any innovators in the room, so please do come and introduce yourself!
So, we’ve got all these programmes at the table that have amazing expertise, but I think we’re really bad at actually talking to each other and working together. I know Big South London are very good at this, but in Hackney, we’ve bought together five different types of business support functions, which encourages us to work together to deliver support to local businesses. It’s really good because we can leverage each other’s expertise, capabilities, etc. and I actually think we’ve got this retrofit stuff happening in North London, loads happening in Sutton that I think every borough should hear about.
We should share ideas and be a bit more collaborative to leverage each other’s resources.
It’s only when we’re all talking to each other that the magic really happens, so more of that would be really good.
I might leave the five of you to it! That’s been really, really helpful. I’m conscious of in the last few minutes, it’d be good to get some audience questions.
Jane, would you mind elaborating on how that coordination was managed? Who’s the coordinator? And how was that funded?
So in Hackney, there’s a couple of people that are really driving that forward. And they brought together three different funding pots to fund it. And they’ve been linking us with a lot of the local community groups, so that we can build those partnerships and they’ve made it part of the bid that we have to work together. But it’s sort of organically growing. Part of the idea is that as we get to know each other, and we work together, we build these relationships, and we share the peer learning. It needs to happen beyond what we’re doing to the businesses that we’re supporting because, say we’re 10 people supporting different businesses. It’s not enough. There’s millions of businesses, so we need to train the businesses to train each other, to then share the knowledge and grow it so and it needs to scale like that. So I’d say a couple of really innovative and thoughtful people are leading it at Hackney, but I don’t see why it can’t happen everywhere. Sort
It sort of involves everyone in the room, doesn’t it? Yeah, we’re all responsible for joining up the dots.
I think there was another question.
My question was for Luan on the business rate reduction. So how many businesses we’ve seen take that up incentive? And have you had interest from other councils and doing something similar?
Yes. So we are now piloting this model with 77 businesses onboard and lots of additional interest. We also have a number of boroughs that have reached out to us and funnily enough, the Treasury also reached out keen to find out more about the discount eligibility and who we’re working with, which I forgot to mention is Green Mark. But yes, we have a lot of interest from the likes of the Treasury, who is also interested in understanding how business rates can be used as a tool to shape development in different ways to enable kind of a green transition.
My question is for Gosbert. I think that one of the last things you said was about a retrofit programme and I’m interested to know how you select the technologies and approaches that you utilise, and whether there’s a particular reach out to local businesses who are developing those technologies.
With all of our programmes, the priority is always on local businesses. I think sometimes – and I’m sure everyone can speak to this on the panel – there’s a fear or at least perception that you’re just going to helicopter in solutions; that we’re just going to get them from all over the country and bring them to London and everything’s going be solved like that. So, there is a real focus for us on engaging local communities because often, the challenge of the supply chain comes in the form of how you even work with a local authority or a large housing provider. That itself is a key part of the education that we provide: getting companies ready and early.
More than 90% of SMEs have less than eight employees – we’re talking about micro businesses. So, a lot of our support is designed for those local businesses by getting them ready to work with large local authorities or housing associations. In terms of the technical assessment, I wouldn’t do it myself personally, but a lot of it is inspired by our work with Innovate UK, as well as bringing in experts from the retrofit industry.
Again, we do have a focus on reaching out to underrepresented founders across the space. Research has shown that the Net Zero space doesn’t typically include women and female business leaders, so we make an extra effort to reach out to those communities through partnerships with the likes of Innovate UK and other organisations in London and further afield.