A massive £122 million of public grants meant to help cut pollution and save energy across the UK have been unclaimed, resulting in tens of thousands of households, businesses and other organisations missing out on chances to reduce their fuel costs.
The UK government has been accused of “shameful incompetence” and a “catalogue of failure” for allowing such a huge underspend on such crucial funding schemes. Poor promotion and the wrong criteria for giving grants are blamed.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in London have released figures showing underspend figures for three key “environmental transformation” funds in response to a freedom of information request by the Liberal Democrat Party. Over the last three years, 80% of the £152 million budgeted has not been spent.
The LIbDem Scottish spokesman, Alistair Carmichael MP, attacked the Labour leadership for failing Scotland on jobs and the environment. “Gordon Brown claimed these funds would create jobs and develop green technologies, but now we find the vast majority of the money never reached the people who needed it,” he told the Sunday Herald.
“This kind of incompetence is shameful when we have rising unemployment and a pressing need to cut emissions. Real investment in renewables would help to create employment and reduce Scotland's carbon footprint.”
Nearly half of the £52 million budget for the low carbon buildings programme meant to help householders, charities and public agencies install small-scale solar and renewable heating technologies has not been spent. Most of the funds allocated to Scotland - £1.33 m out of £1.77m - haven’t so far been handed out.
Only £1.64m of the £50m marine renewables deployment fund designed to help wave and tidal technologies has been spent between 2006 and 2009. “To date,” reported DECC, “there have been no successful applications to the fund’s commercial demonstration scheme.”
Similarly, just £1.63m of the £50m hydrogen fuel cells and carbon abatement technologies demonstration programme has been spent. This was meant to help untried techniques for cutting pollution from fossil fuels.
This all amounted to “a remarkable catalogue of failure”, according to Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland. “Many tens of millions of pounds that should be driving the UK towards becoming a low carbon economy have been wasted,” he said.
“Whether these schemes are badly set up or just badly promoted, this kind of massive lack of delivery is mind-boggling at a time when the economy is struggling and green jobs are under threat.”
Dixon suggested that if the money had been budgeted for anti-environmental schemes like car scrappage or oil prospecting in the Falklands, it would not have been left lying around. “The National Audit Office need to probe this nonsense and make sure this kind of waste does not happen again,” he demanded.
Scottish Renewables, which represents the green technology industry, was also very concerned about the large sums of unspent cash. “It is particularly disappointing that such a small proportion was given to marine renewables considering the potential for investment in Scotland,” said the group’s chief executive, Niall Stuart.
“These figures suggest the massive underspend is due to application criteria being set too high. If we want to meet government targets for renewable energy, they must make funding schemes fit for purpose.”
But DECC defended its grant schemes by pointing out that over 14,500 householders and 5,300 community projects had been helped by the low carbon buildings programme. “Grants payments are not made immediately upon application but we expect the programme to have allocated its full budget by around the middle of this year should demand continue at current rates,” said a DECC spokesman.
He accepted that the marine renewables deployment fund had encountered problems. “Technical difficulties faced by developers have meant that the development of full scale prototypes, eligible for funding, took significantly longer than initially projected,” the spokesman said.
The government had set up a new £22m marine renewables “proving fund”, which was giving grants to six wave and tidal developers. “We are committed to the demonstration of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies,” the spokesman said.
“Last week we announced the successful bidders for shares of £7.2m for hydrogen and fuel cell demonstration projects. We have also made £15m available for proposals for carbon abatement technologies.”