SMEs: Green Deal Barriers or Green Deal Openings?
This article is brought to you to judge the Government’s current thinking on the access SMEs will have to Green Deal work in the competitive arena.
Greg Barker, minister of state for the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), has told a group of small- and medium-sized enterprises and construction industry representatives that barriers to Green Deal entry are "the last thing we want.”
A very substantial and serious consultation will be launched "in a matter of weeks" to ensure that DECC's plans work for SMEs.
Speaking at a roundtable event organised by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB)and Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)on 3rd November, Barker told guests:
"Your customer networks and reputation will be great assets to the Green Deal and that's why SMEs need to be able to compete effectively in this new market."
SMEs are key to the construction industry, with 99 per cent employing fewer than 50 people and 93 per cent employing fewer than 14.
Barker acknowledged challenges as well as benefits, adding that he will be holding a series of events in the coming months with the FSB and the FMB.
He noted the FSB was working with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to see how an apprenticeship scheme can be more easily accessed by SMEs.
The minister called on both policymakers and practitioners to be more innovative and look at things in a new way, ensuring that "consumer protection, high standards of warranties and technical qualifications will be an essential part of the Green Deal".
SMEs could help generate leads for the Green Deal where existing renovations are already occurring, ensuring minimal disruption.
The only way the Green Deal will work, the minister said, is if people do not see it as merely an energy-efficiency measure, pointing to data suggesting that 50 per cent of householders will only undertake work to make their homes "nicer" and cosier".
Therefore it must be marketed as an aspirational scheme and a home improvement, he said, suggesting that SMEs were key in that marketing drive.
Luciana Berger, shadow minister for climate change, affirmed support for the scale of the ambition of the Green Deal, and suggested it was a continuation of schemes piloted under Labour. However, she warned that if it is to be successful, there must be details and clarity.
She spoke of Labour's proposed amendments to the Energy Bill, such as offering small companies and non-profit-making bodies a reduction in the cost of registering, which she hopes will be considered when it comes to secondary legislation.
In addition, she pointed to stamp duty exemption and a reduced council tax rate as examples of incentives which have been floated.
However, she cautioned that if incentives are not there, then take-up will not be forthcoming.
By way of example, Sainsbury's offered 100,000 staff free energy-efficiency measures and only 200 took it up, while E.ON has to offer households £100 to take up free energy-efficiency measures.
Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton, who was in the audience, said she supported the Green Deal in principle but was not sure that the ambition would be met by the tools on the table.
She was critical of the Golden Rule - which states no revonation should cost more than the money saved - for creating a paradox with things such as solar panels, which will not be cheap enough to qualify.
Lucas concluded by urging DECC ministers to emphasise the economic benefits to people such as the chancellor, who are less likely to be convinced by the environmental merits.