Our Comment: Reflections on Midlands Low Carbon Sector Final Engagement Conference

SWM and kMatrix Data Services have been commissioned by the Midlands Energy Hub to provide an evidence-based study in the Low Carbon Environmental Goods & Services (LCEGS) Sector. This aims to understand the current state of the LCEGS sector, where support is needed to help grow this sector, and the role the sector can play in driving a low-carbon recovery from Covid-19. Our final stakeholder engagement conference took place on Tuesday 23 February and bought together over 100 cross-sector attendees from the private and public sector to discuss opportunities to grow low carbon businesses and address current challenges.

The afternoon was filled with interesting presentations which, after a quick welcome from our CEO Anna Bright, began with an overview of the study from Lead of the Midlands Energy Hub, Michael Gallagher.

Michael explained that the latest analysis found that the LCEGS sector was worth £26.6bn to the Midlands Engine economy in 2019/20, as indicated by the value of the sales. The low carbon sector “is no longer a small part of the economy, it’s absolutely critical to the midlands region.” It’s clear that this is an exciting area that is continuing to grow and can really add value to the Midlands region.

Next, we heard from Gary Sturgeon from the Local Climate and Energy Team at BEIS who gave us his perspective on how this study fits in to the national picture. Gary began by discussing the green transition and the impact this will have on jobs and people across the UK. He explained that for this to happen, it is important to break down the workforce by sector to indicate skills gaps in order to inform training needs.

With this, he discussed the importance of the ‘10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution’ to make strides towards net zero in 2050. Gary explained that this presented huge opportunities for the LCEGS sector, especially in the industrial heartlands such as the Midlands. He highlighted the support that would be available for each point of the plan and the investments that would facilitate this. Part of this would be addressed by the Green Jobs Taskforce which aims to “put people at the heart of the transition” and he explained that support and training would be available for those in transitioning industries, especially those in the high carbon sector.

Gary concluded by explaining that studies such as this provide valuable data for future policy interventions and provides a template for extending the analysis to the rest of the UK.

Next, Anna gave us an insight into the stakeholder engagement that has taken place throughout this study which involved nine  focus groups, one for each of the Midlands LEPs and attracting over 150 attendees to ensure that as much feedback as possible from our regional stakeholders was captured. Summaries from these are available on our website. This was followed by Sarah Howard at kMatrix who provided the detailed data analysis for this study. Sarah provided anoverview of the LCEGS sector and also highlighted that it is an ‘umbrella’ sector so it is comprised of relevant activities drawn from other sectors. Therefore, LCEGS activities from these other sectors were also included. She highlighted the unique methodology that kMatrix uses and details of this and outcomes from the study can also be found on our website.

After a quick break we began our first breakout session which discussed opportunities and challenges from the LCEGS sector, regarding funding, business support and skills, policy and governance, investment, and technology and infrastructure. Across the breakout sessions there was reoccurring trend that valued and highlighted the importance of support at LEP level. In the investment breakout session, our Chair Andrew Pollard emphasised that there is investment available for organisations in the LCEGS sector, however organisations may need help in attracting this investment and making it more accessible. A similar theme was echoed across other breakout sessions, with the business support and skills session also highlighting that there is support available, however some SMEs need support to improve their carbon literacy in order to utilise this support. From discussions across the breakout sessions it is clear that collaboration can be the driving force in overcoming these challenges.

Next, Professor Martin Freer from the Energy Research Accelerator continued with the theme of collaboration and discussed the work being done by the Midlands Engine to develop the regional ’10 Point Green Growth Action Plan’. Martin explained that the Midlands Engine recognises that it has a greater role to play in shaping the low carbon transition. He highlighted that this work is not just about trying to gain investment, it is about showing the Government what the region can do. To do this, priorities must draw out the regions strengths which is what the Green Growth action plan aims to do.

Martin explained that “transition is not without challenges and overcoming these challenges leads to opportunities.” This led to our final breakout session which involved discussions focussed on sub-regional strengths at LEP level. The Marches breakout session discussed their target of increasing jobs in the LCEGS sector, while also highlighting the importance of local action and how training programmes for those in transitioning would also be beneficial. From an more urban perspective, the Coventry and Warwickshire breakout session focused more on the question of how we enthuse people to work in this sector and use their existing experience. Education proved to be a big topic throughout the sessions, with attendees agreeing that sustainability should be a theme throughout education, not just added on to an existing module.

Across the conference and breakout sessions, it became clear that there are vast opportunities across the Midlands in the LCEGS sector. Collaboration across all organisations is key, as well as embedding decisions aimed at supporting low carbon activity across all activities including planning and procurement. The drive for change shown by the 100’s of attendees from across the region must be harnessed and built upon to lead to great things across the sector!

Amy Bostock, Volunteer Communications Officer, SWM