Our Comment: The potential for the Low Carbon Sector

Our economy has undoubtedly taken a battering over the past nine months and with Brexit to come, the future looks equally challenging. For many sectors including hospitality and tourism, survival is the only objective.

But what about the low carbon economy (or Low Carbon and Environmental Goods and Services (LCEGS)) specifically? Is the picture as bleak or are there signs of promise?

Speaking for SWM, back in March and April we certainly felt the pain. With much of our work focusing on stakeholder engagement, and suddenly unable to meet in person, many of our clients simply put projects on hold, leaving us with a very real gap to fill with project work. By focusing on different ways of doing things, and embracing new technologies, we were able to reconnect and revitalise our stakeholder engagement activities. The national focus on a green recovery from Covid-19, including the recently announced ‘Ten Point Plan for a Green Revolution’, means opportunities for the LCGES sector and we’re working on this for a range of customers. If anything, we’re now busier than ever.

A recent study from the Midlands Engine sets out the economic impact of Covid-19 on the LCEGS sector. The sector has grown its GVA by 26.6% since 2010, compared to 5.6% growth for the UK, and accounts for 5.1% of the total Midlands Engine economy (2018). The majority of these businesses are small or even microenterprises. Businesses have been forced to furlough 20.8% of eligible staff, totalling 12,000 employees. Whilst jobs postings for the sector saw a reduction of over 30% between March and May, they recovered by August 2020. The report confirms that there is significant demand for skills in planning permission, environmental resource management, sustainability, environmental issues, particularly water and development. Targeted stimulus packages focussing on the low carbon sector will help it to recover time lost during the lockdown and enable a green recovery. Policymakers should prioritise green economic recovery and avoid temptation to favour short term economic benefit.

Through funding from BEIS we have been commissioned by the Midlands Energy Hub, working in partnership with kMatrix Data Solutions, to provide a Midlands wide analysis of the LCEGS sector. We will assess changes to the sector over the past three years and look at the impact of Covid. Across all nine Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) we will provide key data for the sector, and enrich this data through extensive stakeholder engagement. When we publish the findings in March, we hope it will help in identifying the support needed to grow essential skills in the sector, and lead to more jobs and growth in our region, addressing many recommendations of the Midlands Engine report above.

We’re also working with the WMCA on a new ‘WM2041 Net Zero Business Pledge’ which will launch in the new year. Supported by a working group of key businesses and business facing organisations, we’ve developed the pledge which will be accessible to all businesses regardless of their size and sector, and will be a very practical way to support the 2041 net zero ambitions of the WMCA, and to get recognition for doing so.

And there are opportunities for you to get involved. You can join our Innovative Low Carbon Working Group and benefit from opportunities to collaborate on innovative low carbon projects. You can have your say on energy, one of our sector strengths, through the Midlands Engine Energy Conversation and their survey which is currently open. You can work with our members, Severn Trent, on new green recovery projects to support local communities. You can benefit from a whole range of support and funding to develop your low carbon ideas.

Through our literature review for the Midlands Energy Hub study, the evidence is clear. The LCGES sector plays a significant and growing role in the Midlands economy. It is a sector that encompasses all organisations but particularly small, innovative enterprises. The potential is huge. It is only by targeting our collective support at building the right skills in this sector that we will harness this potential. With a region of diverse strengths including energy, construction, advanced manufacturing, agri-tech and mobility, this support must be evidence based and locally relevant.

Join us at our Annual Conference on Thursday 03 December where we focus on the green recovery and discuss how we can take learning from 2020 to move towards our Roadmap targets including all of these sectors. and focusing on jobs and skills. We’ll be ‘In Conversation with Shaun Spiers’, Executive Director at the Green Alliance and Chair of Greener UK so this is one not to miss.

Anna Bright, Chief Executive, SWM