The WMCA pinned its retrofit funding hopes on Truss’s Investment Zones. Now they’re scrapped and the only alternative is mass pressure on Government for full funding to end fuel poverty

Andy Street has a Five Year Plan to tackle cold homes and fuel poverty. The WMCA promises “to retrofit 292,000 homes by 2026 to stay on course for net zero. How much will this cost? “The WMCA estimates the investment required to 2026 to fund the Five Year Plan as … £3,853million.”

How much Government funding has the WMCA got up till now? The WMCA’s Environment and Energy Board announced in March 2022 that the total funding gained so far was £26.6million, and this was from Government. “We are currently running two government-funded retrofit projects targeting nearly 1,000 low-income households.” But the Five Year Plan relies not on Government funding but on “developing investable propositions to stimulate the market”. The problem is that this investment is not forthcoming, as the WMCA report Environment Behaviour Change Update on 9 March 2022 explains: “Energy infrastructure spending is not aligned with local economic priorities which is proving a significant barrier to business investment.” In other words, business can make more profit by investing elsewhere rather than in the green economy.

In the WMCA’s October 3 ‘Levelling Up Prospectus’ Andy Street said “we must … draw in private sector investment … we need the Government to give us the tools to go further and faster. In his mini-budget in September the then Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng seemed to offer the answer: Investment Zones, intended to attract business investment – including in homes retrofit – by de-regulating land and offering companies tax breaks. This was supported by Brigid Jones, Labour’s vice-chair of the WMCA Board and deputy leader of Birmingham City Council. She said in her Foreword to the ‘Levelling Up Prospectus’ “We need more flexible funding to …unlock stalled investment through new Levelling Up Investment Zones.”

The WMCA’s bids for 9 Zones are scrapped – what’s its alternative?

The WMCA joined with local councils and business leaders to quickly put in bids for 9 Investment Zones all over the West Midlands. “If accepted, the zones have the potential to boost the regional economy by more than £4.7 billion a year, create more than 65,000 new jobs, 18,600 homes and more than 333 million sq ft of commercial space, according to business leaders”, quoted the Birmingham Mail.

Now, a few weeks later, that hope is in ruins, like the political careers of Truss and Kwarteng, its authors. Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement said that Investment Zone plans and local authority bids will be scrapped. The name will be kept but only as a label for a small number of university-centred ‘research clusters’.

The lesson of this WMCA fiasco is clear: if it is serious about its claims to want to retrofit homes, starting with social housing, to end fuel poverty and carbon emissions, the CA has to demand full Government funding, backed by mass pressure from the people of the West Midlands. If it doesn’t, its ambitious Five Year Plan won’t be worth the paper it’s written on. If Tory Andy Street won’t publicly challenge this Tory Government – and he won’t – the leaders of the Labour Councils in the West Midlands have to stop hiding behind his coat-tails and take the lead themselves by launching and leading a mass public campaign to demand urgent and fully funded measures by Government to end fuel poverty this winter and massively increase the funding now for retrofit. This would gain overwhelming public support across the West Midlands.

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