Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-102)
NORMAN KERR, WILLIAM GILLIS AND MICHAEL KING
TUESDAY 7 MAY 2002
100. We keep talking about all these schemes and we say we are going to streamline them. We have just been hearing from the people who are supposed to have the ear of the Ministers. We are not even sure how many Ministers are responsible. Every time policy is drawn up there is always the Treasury at the back of it. You people are in the front line in many respects, you represent the fuel poor. If you had the chance, what would you say to Government that you wanted, apart from more money, if you were to try to get it better focused, better organised? A very short summation.
(Mr Gillis) We do need more flexibility in some of the grant schemes.
101. Does that make it even more complicated if it is more flexible?
(Mr Gillis) Yes; potentially it could do. You will not solve the problem by a one-size-fits-all solution. As we all know, houses are different and they vary considerably. Our experience, just like the pilot scheme in Aberdeen, is yes, you can find solutions to most housing. What is required is a degree of flexibility and an ability to design a scheme around the individual requirements of the property and also of the people who live in that property. It is no good providing solutions that people cannot live with or cannot manage or cannot accommodate. We do need more flexibility in the grant scheme. One of the things we have advocated in NEA is investigating moving to a property centred approach, that is targeting properties rather than individuals. That is partly because there is a very high correlation between low income and poor housing conditions. It gets over the problem of the nearly poor, those just outside the benefit or those not claiming benefit. There is also a considerable amount of energy that outside of the elderly population, fuel poverty is a movable feast; people move in and out of fuel poverty as life changes impact on family income and other energy needs. There is also a feeling currently, certainly in some of the statistics which the Government are producing, that people claiming benefits to which they are entitled, who are in averagely efficient homes, are not in fuel poverty. There is a lot of sense in investigating a proper incentive and properly targeted approach which might be easier than trying to hunt out individual households.
(Mr King) In a very simple way, referring to your allusion that it is the Treasury behind all this, if one were able to get the Treasury to understand that it is a public health issue and that historically investment in public health works, such as the installation of sewers in the nineteenth century, have actually produced the greatest benefits to the nation in terms of health, but also in quality of life. If one can demonstrate that cost-benefit analysis and the Treasury recognise that, then it would flow down through government and they would seek to re-organise it and deliver it in the most effective way.
(Mr Kerr) I agree with Mr King completely. The earlier session talked about the link to health as well. Until we have a time where the GP or the health visitor is prescribing a heating system for somebody, we will not have joined-up government. That is what we do not have now and we have a silo mentality, where we cannot engage the health sector. You are right, there are too many Ministers in charge.
102. If we take local authorities who are renewing their housing stock with a heating system, do they actually come to talk to you on what you believe are the best systems? It seems to me that there is no link. "What would you like? Do you want coal, gas, electricity?" That is not always the best thing to do because it is not always the answer for the future. What link do you have with local authorities and advising on renovation of housing stock and housing associations as well?
(Mr Kerr) That will vary across the three groups. In Scotland, Energy Action Scotland hosts the Scottish HECA Officers Network (SHON) where we talk to each other, Home Energy Conservation Officers in the 32 local authorities in Scotland. We are advising them. We are working with the Scottish Executive to set minimum standards which are passed down to local authorities on the operating of boilers and what constitutes a proper central heating system. We are talking to Scottish Homes, now Community Scotland, and they in turn are talking to the housing associations they look after to set minimum standards. Our problem is not the housing stock of the future, it is the housing stock we have now. Community Scotland deal with housing associations and have very stringent standards for new build. The difficulty is when we are looking at renovation of existing stock. A heating system will not always lift a property out of fuel poverty; it has to be backed up with high quality insulation, it has to be backed up with energy advice. That is something we have not talked about so far. If you give somebody a high efficiency, multi-faceted central heating system, the chances of them using that well are the same as me working my television remote control: very poor. You have to make it simple for people to understand so they can use it. I am surprised the electricity companies did not talk about energy advice, because it is a vital part. If any of you look at the home energy action reports for your own area, you will see that great emphasis is placed on achieving their savings with a lot of energy advice. Nobody has been able to quantify that. It would be very, very helpful to give people not just the system but the advice on how to use that to get the best out of it.
Chairman: We shall leave it there. We have covered all the issues. May I just offer you one health warning? I am not sure that we are going to come out in favour of another one penny increase the year after next in national insurance contribution to meet that. We are very grateful to you for the time and the trouble you have taken and the evidence you have given us. If we have any additional matters, we shall get back to you all. Thank you very much.