Trade Support Scheme - how did it go?

Local construction companies helped to enter low-carbon market

3 March 2016

More small-medium sized construction companies in Bath and North East Somerset are engaging with energy efficiency thanks to an initiative delivered by CSE in partnership with Low Carbon South West.

The one-year local authority-funded Trade Support Scheme offered advice and subsidised training to trades – electricians, builders, heating engineers etc – to help them expand into the low carbon home improvements sector.

The scheme ended in August 2015 and a summary report is available to download.

It was run in conjunction with Energy at Home – a council programme that CSE are partners in delivery and which is still going strong  that promotes energy efficiency to local households and has helped grow the local market for low carbon services.

However, the market (and our scheme) was strongly influenced by external factors, as CSE’s Justin Lee-Gammage explains. "We experienced some snags along the way when funding for key areas of the government’s Green Deal scheme was withdrawn, as it created uncertainty in the market. This highlights the importance of a long-term commitment from government to energy efficiency retrofitting. A sustained and well-resourced approach to supporting the SME supply chain is essential."

Nonetheless, in just over a year, we:

  • Spoke to 715 people about the support available.
  • Ran 15 events for local trade SMEs attended by 626 people.
  • Advised 89 local trade SMEs – with 59 going on to receive subsidised training.
  • Allocated grants for 130 discounted training courses of which 92 were claimed.
  • Built up a comprehensive list of 470 SMEs operating in construction in the local area.

And in the course of the project, we learned some important lessons.

Free courses do not produce a free-for-all
Despite lots of publicity, there was a slow take up of subsidised places on training courses. A straw poll of SMEs suggested the following reasons: the uncertainty over the stability and availability of an energy efficiency market; accreditation fatigue ('enough paperwork already'); and that most SMEs in the area had reasonably full order books and didn't need additional work. Low carbon works are not distinct enough from work already carried out by trades to establish a separate supply chain, and businesses should be encouraged to integrate them as part of their standard services.

Focus on supply chain improvements that are not linked to short term schemes
Courses on e.g. retrofitting traditional buildings sympathetically as part of normal retrofit works or on biomass heating (perceived to be a genuine new market) were sought after, while courses tied to the Feed in Tariff or the Green Deal were not. Trades like heating, plumbing and plastering should be encouraged to embed energy efficient materials, technologies and techniques into their everyday work, so, for example, heating engineers can recommend smart heating controls to householders, or plasterers and renderers can offer householders insulation options when undertaking building works.

Finally, to address concerns about the quality of some solid wall insulation jobs recently undertaken, we planned to work with further education colleges in the area to develop training in this area, and to create a new course on the challenges and opportunities of retrofitting traditional and heritage properties. We found that the structure of the industry means there’s no incentive for installers to go beyond the 1-2 day training course to get accreditation from the system manufacturer. A better mechanism is needed for encouraging or obliging installers to skill-up.

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