How and Why we created the amended methodology for Combined Authorities
This week, we released the combined authority methodology for combined authorities. Combined authorities are a new tier of local government in England since 2010 and therefore require a slightly different methodology due to their different powers and capacities. Combined authorities are not local authorities. They are not a council and they don’t collect your bins, as the West Midlands Combined Authority says on its website. Combined authorities were set up as part of English devolution plans, with 11 currently in existence in England (we include the Greater London Authority in our counting but they aren’t quite a Combined authority, or like any other local government structure either!).
Combined Authorities aim to support joint working across council boundaries, and many were set up to support transport improvements, economic development, and regeneration in an area. Combined Authorities have an elected mayor (except for the North East Combined Authority) and a combined authority board made up of one councillor from each of the local councils that the combined authority covers.
There are considerable differences between the powers of combined authorities and other council types. That is why we have amended the Council Climate Action Scorecards Methodology for combined authorities to better reflect the different powers and influence that they have.
About half of the combined authorities methodology questions are the same or amended from the main Scorecards questions. We have taken out some questions that we ask other councils because combined authorities don’t have power or budget control over these questions, such as approving planning applications. The other questions in the combined authority methodology are new questions, focussing on the different powers and influence and funding of combined authorities. This blog focuses on why we have included these new questions for combined authorities.
This, as with the other methodology, is a draft methodology and is subject to change. Any change is likely to be small, and as a result of changing policies and powers of combined authorities or our understanding of their powers and policies.
Buildings Heating and Green Skills
This section, along with Planning, Biodiversity and Land Use, is probably one of the sections that has changed the most. This is because combined authorities do not tend to support residents directly with their homes and heating. However, there is work that combined authority can do, at arms length from residents, to support retrofitting. We have included questions such as whether the combined authority is working in partnership with others in the area to prepare to retrofit, and if they are conducting the research needed to understand the scale of the retrofit work needed across the combined authority and the other councils they cover. Combined authorities are better placed to conduct research of this scale due to their larger geographical nature.
Excitingly, combined authorities have control over adult education budgets. This means that they have the potential to take action to create green jobs and a workforce skilled-up for climate action. Therefore, we have included a number of questions on how combined authorities are supporting green jobs and green skills. Firstly, we ask if they have a strategy for green jobs and skills. As with so many of our actions we ask if there is a plan of action first, then we ask about the specific actions.
Our other questions on green skills include whether they are running green skills programmes or partnerships, such as Green Skills Bootcamps, and if they have a dedicated employment or careers project to encourage and promote green jobs. We hope that Skills Bootcamps are just the start of a lot more that combined authorities will be doing in the very near future to truly train the workforce we need for the future.
The final questions on green skills are about the number of green skills courses the combined authority has funded, and how many people have completed these courses. This is essential, hard data to know if this training is actually happening. This question will be answered via a Freedom Of Information request (one of only a handful of FOI requests that we are sending to combined authorities).
These questions on green skills are new, and we are excited to see what we find out through this new angle of the Council Climate Action Scorecards.
Combined authorities are transport authorities – they are the regional body that holds power over transport including writing a Local Transport Plan, higher levels of funding and greater powers with public transport operators. But they still have to work with their constituent authorities in order to implement these initiatives – they cannot just put bike lanes or implement a clean air zone.
Many of the questions are the same or amended as the methodology for the other local authorities. This includes the questions on bus ridership, electric vehicle charging, active travel and shared transport.
Those that are amended include 1b – High Carbon Transport in Transport Plan, and 4b – Zero Emission Bus Fleet. Question 4b is simple, we are asking for a target for a completely zero emission bus fleet to be included in the Bus Service Improvement Plan. This mirrors the question in the rest of the Scorecards that asks if they have low-emission buses within their area. For Question 1b we are looking at whether the Transport Plan, which will shape and guide the transport initiatives in the area, includes the planned expansion of high carbon transport infrastructure, which we have defined as roads and airports. This question will be negatively scored as moves towards building new roads or expanding airports will only increase emissions and negatively affect biodiversity.
This leaves the new questions – Question 3 (Trains) and Question 5 (Integrated ticketing). For Question 3 we are asking if the combined authority has funded the expansion or improved the train network through having a rail strategy which includes opening/reopening stations or lines, buying new zero-emission train stock, or funding the improvement of stations. We have asked this question of combined authorities due to the relative strength of funding they have to be able to afford and invest in these larger projects.
Integrated ticketing – allowing for one payment card/ticket between public transport – is one of the most effective and simplest ways to improve the transport of a region. It makes transport seamless and many combined authorities have an aim for public transport to be integrated. What we will be looking for is how far along they are with integrating ticketing for public transport.
Governance & Finance
Many of these questions are the same as the methodology for other local authorities. This is because this section focuses on the internal workings of a council and how they can embed climate action into all of their work and decision making.
Notably, there is a new question asking if the combined authority has climate action embedded in its local industrial strategy. This is a strategy that combined authorities and/or Local Economic Partnerships write in order to set out the plan for job and industry creation in their area. We’re glad to have finally found a way to include Local Economic Partnerships into our Scorecards in some way, as they have influence and funding locally but are not so easy to understand, and are not organisations with directly elected representatives.
The other new question is whether the combined authority has an investment fund for climate action. This is a huge action that combined authorities can do, which has potential to make a real difference locally on climate action. By attracting external investment, and then using this to fund climate action implemented by councils, businesses and community groups can help fund vital local climate action and ensure the combined authority is influencing action across the whole area.
UK Government data on area-wide emissions doesn’t calculate for combined authorities so we will add up the emission totals for each local authority within a combined authority and calculate if there has been a reduction in emissions from this data.
Finally, we know the total number of staff working on climate action will be smaller in a combined authority as their staff teams are smaller, but % as we are scoring as a % of overall staff this mitigates any bias towards other council types. The exact scoring for this question is to be determined, and the considerably smaller staff size of combined authorities will be taken into account when creating the exact points for this question.
Planning, Land Use and Biodiversity
Combined authorities have limited powers over planning as they don’t control land and they are not planning authorities, although some of the combined authorities do have the specific power to create spatial planning strategies. However, they do have the ability to push forward with new plans if the constituent authorities agree to create one. For example, the Greater Manchester Places for Everyone Plan (a spatial planning strategy) includes policies to introduce new stronger building efficiency standards, despite Greater Manchester Combined Authority having no powers on building standards.
Therefore we have two planning related questions and 4 biodiversity related questions. Question 2, area wide energy mapping and question 5, tree cover, are the same as the Scorecards methodology. Question 1 is amended – instead of asking if the Local Plan contains a net-zero target we are asking if the combined authorities spatial plan has a net-zero target and makes tackling the climate emergency a key objective.
The new questions are all biodiversity related. Question 3, which deals with mapping the biodiversity opportunity areas, question 4, which is about natural capital investment plans and question 6, which asks if the combined authority has a community biodiversity fund to support local action. Questions 3 and 4 are linked. It is likely that if the combined authority has a natural capital investment plan – how money will be invested to improve biodiversity in the area with a price attached to the ecosystem services habitat provides – they will have mapped the opportunity areas. And if they have mapped the opportunity areas it is likely they will be looking to create a natural capital investment plan.
Collaboration & Engagement
The collaboration and engagement section is particularly important for combined authorities because they exist to co-ordinate and convene local councils to develop solutions for their area. About half the questions have remained the same in this section, and those that are new are mainly question amendments rather than totally new questions. For example, the question on whether the combined authority has publicly lobbied for more climate action from the Government or other organisations is an extension of the original question that remains on the combined authority lobbying the government for more funding, powers and climate resources.
The two main questions that are new are focussed on what research the combined authority has done in relation to decarbonisation pathways and any other research project on climate change. This is because combined authorities have greater capacity and skills to conduct research at scale, especially as combined authorities don’t directly support residents with services. This is also why we have asked only combined authorities explicitly if they have created a climate change commission or similar. A climate change commission takes time and budget that smaller councils may not be able to afford when having to choose what services to provide amidst further government cuts to council budgets, and they can support all the councils in the area with expert advice.
Finally, we have included a question on whether the combined authority is working in partnership with local businesses. Combined authorities often work more closely with Local Economic Partnerships and businesses because it is within their aims to support economic development and regeneration. Because this is a main aim of combined authorities, we have kept in this business partnership question but removed the questions about working with schools and culture as they do not interact directly with schools and cultural bodies locally in the same way as other councils do, such as county councils who manage schools in the area.
We hope this blog has shone some light on the powers of combined authorities, how we are scoring them in our Action Scorecards, and why it took us just a little longer to confirm this methodology. Combined authorities are just a little different.