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At last some vision and ambition from a government scheme

Posted by Matthew Rhodes on 21 October 2009 at 4:10 pm

Encraft is fortunate enough to be involved in the government's Retrofit for the Future competition. This is a national scheme to find innovative ways of reducing carbon emissions from housing by 80% or more – something we urgently must to do to deliver the carbon dioxide reductions we need.

What I like about the competition is the way  government has opened it up across the industry. In national funding terms the amount of money provided is low (£10 million) – but Retrofit for the Future is a good example of how to achieve the maximum benefit with the minimum funds.

The usual government thing is to award the money to a handful of large projects by giving each maybe £1 - 3 million. Instead, this scheme awards nearly 200 projects a small amount of funding (£10-£20,000) to carry out detailed design and feasibility work, with a view to funding about 50 actual social housing refurbishment projects next year.

Even 200 projects isn't many in the context of a housing stock of 24 million or more homes. However, each project team typically includes three to six organisations. In doing the design work they will each probably engage with a dozen or more equipment supply companies and construction professionals (at least). And we all believe we can win, of course. So almost instantly this competition has 2,000 or more organisations across the UK focusing some of their best designers on radical innovations for carbon reduction, and the whole industry is engaged.

This beats by a mile the many millions the government has almost certainly wasted over the years in communications and awareness campaigns, and even in certification and accreditation schemes. It’s also much better than a handful of companies and projects receiving a few million pounds each – which is a high risk route if one or two projects fail – and some always will. Even when these projects succeed, the experience and expertise tends to stay with a small number of people and places.

So I’m hopeful that this one small project will help catalyse a step change in awareness of whole-house, low-carbon retrofit opportunities in the UK, and that the government will follow through with many more such enlightened schemes. It is a sad indictment of their previous track record that when we saw the original competition announcement we almost didn’t apply, because our experience of the public sector following through their rhetoric to support innovative small companies has been so poor in the past – we didn’t really believe they were serious. On this occasion, I’m glad to have been proved wrong.

Photo by Gene Hunt

About the author:

Matthew Rhodes is chief executive of Encraft

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