West Midlands Local Authority Sustainability Benchmark 2022

Date of the report

December 2022

Author of the report

SWM, in collaboration with the Environment Agency

Purpose of the report

This report provides a summary of the progress that local authorities in the West Midlands are making against various aspects of sustainability associated with West Midlands Sustainability Roadmap to 2030. It gives local authorities and their supporting organisations, including with whom we have collaborated with, the Environment Agency, a clearer idea of:

  • Good practice emanating from local authorities that could be scaled-up or replicated elsewhere.
  • The influence that policy is having on local authority activity.
  • Gaps in progress whereby further support or funding is required.
  • Patterns of progress, e.g. against different Roadmap themes, or in different locations (urban vs. rural, county vs. district, etc.).

The benchmark can also be used independently by local authorities on an annual basis to self-assess their progress on sustainability and to more quickly identify where they should take further action.

It can also help supporting organisations, such as national Government (BEIS, Defra etc.), the Local Government Association (LGA), the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to better understand where their support would be most welcomed.

This report, available to download below, summarises the findings and provides the recommendations. The full report, including detailed findings, methodology, case studies and local authority rankings, is not published externally and has been sent directly to the councils that participated.

Key Findings

The following table shows the progress of the 21 LA respondents against each Roadmap theme:



Recommendations for local authorities

  • Councils that are performing well in this assessment on any or all of the Roadmap themes should help other authorities with their activities by sharing good practice and celebrating their success in an honest way, to include reflections on why and how the strong performing council has achieved what it has. SWM, with its networks and communications channels, can help with this.
  • County councils should provide support to the district and borough councils that they envelope. This is within their own interest to improve county-wide progress on sustainability, and it is often the case that borough and district councils have less resourcing or influence than county equivalents. Collaborative working on projects should be carried out without exception.
  • Given the urgency that we need to roll out climate action, councils should also engage with other sectors (NHS, businesses, universities, communities etc.) in their locality to drive forward and scale-up local action. Cross-sector working groups are a good start to enabling these collaborations and unlocking potential private sector funding and resource.
  • When developing strategies and targets, councils need to ensure these are realistic and achievable within the set timeframe. Ambitious targets are great if they can be achieved, but resourcing may prevent this.
  • Councils should embed sustainability across all strategic thinking. Ultimately, delivering council strategic plans and priorities in a more sustainable way will save on resources and help to deliver priority actions more efficiently. Again, authorities who have not done this should learn from those that have.
  • Linked to this, councils should provide training and upskilling opportunities to all staff around sustainability issues and identify champions who can act as leaders in other parts of the organisation. It is critical that a sustainability ethos is embedded across the whole of the council’s workforce, especially in teams such as public health, planning and education.
  • One simple way that can go towards achieving some of the above is to join SWM’s long-standing West Midlands Public Sector Sustainability & Energy Network, which contains representation from all 32 West Midlands’ authorities.
  • Councils should also consult resources such as the Local Government Association’s Climate Change Hub, their local Net Zero Hub, Ashden’s Climate Action Co-Benefits Toolkit and Fit for the Future Network for further support and guidance. The Carbon Trust and Energy Saving Trust can also support local authorities with engagement opportunities and advice.

Recommendations for supporting bodies

  • This report shows that there is still a significant gap in progress from one authority to the next. Support should be prioritised to those authorities that have performed less well on this assessment.
  • When supporting bodies are engaging with councils, they should ensure that they are doing so collaboratively. For example, if they are engaging with a county council, conversations should include the district and borough councils where activities can positively impact a larger area.
  • The WMCA should ensure that they continue to engage with their constituent local authorities in order to meet the regional target to be Net Zero by 2041. Based on recent engagement, there remains some confusion around how the WMCA’s plans affect non-constituent and neighbouring authorities (e.g. Staffordshire and Warwickshire). Further clarity on this by the WMCA is required.
  • Local authorities need to be provided with opportunities to engage, connect and share good practice. A mixture of virtual and in-person events should be convened on different topics to enable this to happen, to allow poorer performing councils to learn from others to improve. SWM is in the strongest position to do this, as we are demonstrating with our event on adaptation in November 2022.
  • More transparent signposting of funding opportunities should be distributed amongst all local authorities as soon as they are open for applications. The funders and dissemination bodies have a responsibility to target as wide a range of authorities as possible, and not just the ‘usual suspects.’ Alongside this, partners such as BEIS or LGA should provide a ‘one-stop-shop’ of nationally available funding opportunities that local authorities can apply for.
  • Further funding should be provided to local authorities from central Government via LEPs and the WMCA to enable them to fund action on more challenging issues, such as decarbonisation of heat and climate adaptation.
  • Regarding the latter, performance on climate change adaptation related activity remains the poorest when compared to other areas. Given the crucial role councils can play in helping to make their local areas more resilient to climate change impacts, further support is urgently needed. The publication of the third National Adaptation Programme in 2023 provides an opportunity to clarify what this could look like.
  • Standard guidance should be provided on effective methods that local authorities can apply to establish a sustainability strategy. A consistent approach along with templates and guides would help to accelerate such action in those authorities with fewer resources.
  • Case studies and examples of good practice should be widely shared digitally across platforms that are frequently engaged with by councils (with one of the best examples being the LGA Knowledge Hub).
  • Supporting bodies should help to scale-up and rollout successful projects on a bigger scale to accelerate climate action over a wider area.

Links and contact information

Please contact SWM at enquiries@swm.org.uk for more information.


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