A new vision for retrofit

By John Sinfield; Managing Director (Knauf Insulation Northern Europe)

When reflecting upon the Government’s vision for Construction 2025, the first thing that struck me was the word ‘vision’ – what is meant by this?

In the business world, visions can sit anywhere on a spectrum. At the ‘bad’ end, they can be meagre placeholders – “we don’t have one, but we know we need one” – so a convenient façade is orchestrated that can ultimately lead to confusion, rather than offer the much needed direction. At the ‘good’ end, a vision allows an organisation to set out core values that shape goals and drive activity forward; providing a filter for employees’ day to day decisions.

In truth it is hard for private organisations to reach the ‘good’ end of the vision spectrum, let alone governments. The challenges of genuinely ‘living’ a vision in the public sector are significant, but they are not impossible. Indeed the art of selling a vision, of great political oratory, is part of what makes an influential and convincing politician. What’s more, the drivers sitting behind the Government’s vision for construction – whether climate change, improving our leaky, ageing housing stock or energy security – are too important to ignore.

My confidence in the current Government’s capacity to ambitiously drive forward its vision for construction has taken a hit over the last two years. Specifically, that criticism stems from Government’s failure in the domestic retrofit sector to be realistic about what a successful renovation policy framework looks like and its failure to recognise the deficiencies in that policy framework once it was up and running.

Once these failings were laid bare, Government proceeded to redesign energy efficiency policy – not to deliver against a vision, but to deliver a populist £50 saving to household energy bills.

Green Deal

There has inevitably been a cost to this inconsistency. Millions in capital investment gearing up for the Government’s retrofit vision have been squandered, along with a lot of the influence or ‘personal capital’ of those individuals within companies that both shared the Government’s vision and pushed for that investment in the first place.

But all is not yet lost. If the ambition of a more energy efficient housing stock, a more sustainable built environment and a thriving green construction sector are to be placed beyond just the corridors of the Department for Energy & Climate Change (DECC) and take a more central place within Government, then perhaps there is a chance to revisit the policy framework. Maybe there is an opportunity to get wider departmental and Governmental buy-in to the vision.

If, as I hope we can, industry and Government can collaborate to re-frame the energy efficiency debate, not as ‘lagging a few lofts’, but rather as a UK infrastructure challenge that all parties and individuals have a stake in and can benefit from, then the vision still has hope of being realised.

Industry must play its part too; we need to de-risk it for politicians who want to passionately drive the agenda. We must better communicate the benefits of energy efficiency and innovate to make action easier and savings more certain.

Knauf Insulation has invested, and is still investing heavily despite the current uncertainty in the market, in addressing these issues. We are doing so because it is part of our vision.

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