Hidden in plain sight – the value of green spaces

jardin public

By Heather Cameron

They may be something most of us see every day but take for granted – the area of green space we pass on our way to work or frequent in our lunch break. And although we might make use of such spaces on a regular basis, is the true value of them really understood?

As highlighted by a recent report from the Land Trust, green spaces provide even more to society than we often think about.

Wider value

It has long been recognised that green spaces provide multiple benefits to communities and wider society, but there has been limited robust evidence on their wider economic value. The Land Trust report highlights that the services delivered by soil, grass, flowers, trees and water provide society and the economy with significant benefits.

It suggests that several important functions are provided by these green spaces, including:

  • Reducing and preventing flooding
  • Cleaning our water
  • Storing and removing carbon
  • Cleaning our air, reducing air pollution

Such functions help to alleviate costs to local and wider communities, such as to the health service, other public services and local businesses. Previous research has similarly alluded to such benefits.

Independent research by UK scientists in 2011 highlighted the true value of nature in relation to the economic, health and social benefits, estimating that it was worth billions of pounds to the UK economy.

Other research has also shown that green space has been linked to reduced levels of obesity in children and young people, and that access to open spaces is associated with higher levels of physical activity and reductions in a number of long-term conditions such as heart disease, cancer, and musculoskeletal conditions.

The proportion of green and open space is also linked to self-reported levels of health and mental health, through improved companionship, sense of identity and belonging and happiness. And living in areas with green spaces is associated with less income-related health inequality, thereby reducing the effect of deprivation on health.

What the Land Trust’s report does differently, is demonstrate these widely recognised benefits in physical and monetary terms to help create a greater understanding of the economic contribution of well-managed green spaces.

Natural capital accounting

A ‘natural capital accounting’ approach was taken to translate these benefits into financial terms, taking consideration of the physical land, its quality, how it is managed, used and the functions it performs.

Two different parks – Silverdale Country Park in the Midlands and Beam Parklands in London – were used in the study to demonstrate this value. Overall, Silverdale’s annual natural capital value was estimated to be £2.6 million, with a return on investment of £35 for every £1 invested, while Beam Parklands’ natural capital value, based on a 99 year period, has been valued at £42 million – an increase of £21 million since 2009.

Other benefits provided by Silverdale include:

  • Nearly £400,000 per year of flood risk reduction benefits
  • An annual value of £82,000 for the park and its maintenance to retain and purify water
  • A wider annual value of £840,000 of absorbed and stored carbon
  • A potential increase of 113% in local air pollution absorption since 2011

Other benefits provided by Beam Parklands (primarily a flood defence) include:

  • Nearly £600,000 per year of flood risk reduction benefits
  • Nearly £800,000 per year of educational and health benefits to the local community

As two well-maintained green spaces, they indicate the importance of long-term investment.

Final thoughts

Perhaps these financial values will help people to better comprehend the true value of our green spaces. As the report notes, it is important to remember that they are “not ‘one off’ monetary values or price tags” but rather an indication of what our green spaces are worth and their benefits to both society and the economy.

Put simply, as the Land Trust concludes, “green spaces… are valuable to society”.


If you enjoyed reading this, you may also like our previous articles on pocket parks and green spaces.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. 

The 5G arms race: the UK’s strategy to become a global leader in 5G technology

By Steven McGinty

On 8 March, the UK Government published their strategy for developing 5G – the next generation of wireless communication technologies.

Released on the same day as the Spring Budget, the strategy builds on the government’s Digital Strategy and Industrial Strategy, and sets out the government’s ambition to become a global leader in 5G.

Accelerating the deployment of 5G networks, maximising the productivity and efficiency benefits to the UK from 5G, creating new opportunities for UK businesses, and encouraging inward investment, are the strategy’s main objectives.

If the UK makes progress in these areas, the strategy argues, 5G infrastructure has the potential to become an enabler of smart city technologies, such as autonomous vehicles and advanced manufacturing, and to support the expansion of the Internet of Things – the interconnection of people, places, and everyday objects.

5G Innovation Network

Although the strategy highlights the enormous potential of 5G, it makes clear that 5G technologies are still in development, and that the majority of funding will need to come from the private sector.

To support the growth of a commercial market, the strategy explains, a new 5G trials and testbed programme will be introduced – through a national 5G Innovation Network – to coordinate the development of 5G services and applications. This programme will help government and private sector partners understand the economics of deploying 5G networks, ensuring that technologies can he delivered in a cost-effective way, and enabling best practice to be captured and knowledge disseminated.

The government is investing an initial £16m into the programme (involving partners such as UK Research and Innovation and the Government Digital Service), and has targeted a trial of end-to-end 5G (high speed connectivity without the need for intermediary services) by 2018. In February, Ericsson announced that they had a successful end-to-end 5G trial in Sweden, alongside partners SK Telecom Korea.

Improving regulations

To support the development of 5G, the strategy suggests that there may need to be regulatory changes, particularly in the planning system. As such, the government has committed to reviewing current regulations before the end of 2017, and then to conduct regular reviews, as partners learn more from their 5G trials.

Local connectivity plans

The strategy highlights the important role local regions play in the deployment of mobile technologies, and explains that the government will be consulting with councils on how planning policies can be used to provide high quality digital infrastructure.

However, it also suggests that there may be a case for introducing ‘local connectivity plans’, which would outline how local areas intend to meet their digital connectivity needs. Interestingly, the strategy highlights that evidence, such as local plans, may be taken into account when the government is making funding decisions for local infrastructure projects.

Coverage and capacity, infrastructure sharing, and spectrum

The strategy accepts that the move towards 5G won’t be as straightforward as the move from 3G to 4G. Instead, 5G technology will be developed alongside the expansion of the 4G network.

In addition, the government has accepted the recommendations of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC)’s ‘Connected Future’ report, which states that unnecessary barriers to infrastructure sharing between telecommunications companies must be tackled. The strategy states that it will explore options for providing a clearer and more robust framework for sharing.

Increasing the available radio spectrum was also highlighted as key to developing 5G technology. The strategy notes that the government will work with Ofcom to review the spectrum licensing regime to help facilitate the development of 4G and 5G networks.

5G strategy’s reception

Natalie Trainor, technology projects expert at law firm Pinsent Masons, has welcomed the new 5G strategy, explaining that:

“…technology and major infrastructure projects will become much more interlinked in future and that the plans outlined can help the UK take forward the opportunities this will present.”

In particular, Ms Trainor sees the establishment of the Digital Infrastructure Officials Group – which will bring together senior staff from across departments – as a way of providing greater awareness and co-ordination of major public projects that involve digital infrastructure. Ms Trainor also hopes that the new group will encourage the Department for Transport and the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) to work with industry to develop digital connectivity on the UK’s road and rail networks.

Professor Will Stewart, Vice President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, similarly welcomes the new strategy but highlights that the funding announced will ‘not come anywhere close’ to the investment required to deliver 5G across the UK. In addition, he also makes it clear that coverage and regulatory change will be vital, stating that:

The biggest challenge for government will be improving coverage for all, as 5G cannot transform what it doesn’t cover. And achieving universal coverage for the UK, outside high-capacity urban areas, will not be affordable or achievable without regulatory change.”

Former Ofcom director and author of The 5G Myth, Professor William Webb, has also applauded the government’s plans, even though he is an outspoken critic of the 5G industry. For Professor Webb, the strategy recognises that we are in the early stages of 5G technology, and that there is still a need to develop 4G networks.

Final thoughts

5G technology provides the UK with the opportunity to become a genuinely smart society. Yet, as the strategy acknowledges, 5G is still in its infancy and the idea of a 5G network across the UK is a long way down the road.

The new 5G strategy includes a number of positive steps, such as listening to the recommendations of the NIC report, and exploring the realities of deploying 5G networks. This cautious approach is unlikely to show any significant progress in the short term, but does provide a focal point for academia, government, and industry to rally around.


Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. If you found this article interesting, you may also like to read our other smart city articles.

“Business is an act of citizenship”: using BIDs to promote inclusive economic growth in communities

The key to inclusive place based economic growth?

The principle of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) is pretty straightforward, and the legislation in Scotland is flexible enough to ensure that pretty much anyone can create and act on a BID-based idea. There are currently over 30 live BID projects in Scotland, with BIDs Scotland stating in their latest annual report that they believe this number could almost double to 65 by the end of 2017 if upcoming and scheduled BIDs are also taken into account. The report found that, despite continuing tough economic conditions, there appears to be little evidence of a decline in interest in the BID model. If anything, more people are turning to BIDs as a way of improving local high streets using limited local funds, private investment from local businesses, and other local assets.

BIDs themselves can be seen as a cross section – a mix of the entire economic ecosystem of a place. They can encompass economic, business, local, political and social elements and bring them together in a strategic way to build revenue to support the different aspects of the BID area, including aesthetics, security and commerce. They are locally developed, locally managed, locally financed and locally delivered, giving a sense of authenticity which is becoming increasingly popular among consumers. This popularity is evidenced by the successful renewal of all of the BIDs in Scotland who have gone to reballot to date, with many actually increasing their majority in favour of the BID model.

Collaboration and embedding BIDS within their local communities

As BIDs have been developed, and new models, partnerships and ways of co- operating have been established, BID coordinators and councils in particular are thinking about how to ensure the legacy of the BID within their locality and, more importantly, how to ensure that the economic benefits of the BID are felt across the BID area, not just within the businesses.

This area-wide benefit can be created by for example, re-investing money in security, street lighting, Christmas lights, and flower baskets to improve the feel and aesthetics of a place – actions which are commonplace in BID areas. However, there are some who feel that BIDs could and should go even further in increasing their social value within a community, while not losing sight of the interests of levy payers. This balance, which requires recognition of the wider roles and responsibilities of BIDs, is something which will have to be carefully managed by BID managers in order to ensure that BIDs do not try to do too much, but at the same time act in a way which makes them a key part of their local community and economy. It is an interesting and, at times, difficult place for progressive BIDs to be.

In many areas, BIDs have provided an opportunity for increased community development, and it has been suggested that there could be a formal role for BIDs to play in the wider community development partnerships within localities. BIDs are now being developed to sit alongside existing community anchor bodies, helping to create strong local partnerships and independent communities.

Through collaboration and co-ordination, BIDs are working alongside other services and organisations to help develop sustained community empowerment, helping communities to lobby, providing work experience placements to local young people and acting positively in the form of events to promote increased community cohesion and empowerment, as well as continuing with “normal practice”- increasing footfall in their local area to benefit businesses.

Not all about the money

While generating additional income for the local economy is one of the biggest drivers of support for BIDs in communities, in some instances one of the biggest assets they bring to a community (especially once they are firmly established) is their leverage and collective bargaining power. They have the power to campaign and support other groups in the community on issues that are important to them, as well as offering greater bargaining power with local authorities or other businesses.

As well as commitment to the levy payers’ interest and to improving the local area for people living nearby, another of the potential roles of BIDs is not to act as direct income generators, but as catalysts or facilitators, to encourage new investment and wider growth beyond the BID area – to engage strategically with other partners to encourage investment.

 

Where next for BIDs

As we have already seen, the flexibility of the BID model in Scotland (there are some legislative differences in England) is such that groups may only be limited by their own ambition. Currently Scotland has what is thought to be the world first food and drinks BID and the first tourism BID this side of the Atlantic. Another innovation is the Borders Railway BID, which seeks to maximise the collective benefit to businesses that are located along the railway route.

It has been suggested that the BID model could be used in a more flexible way to generate income for other public service projects, including the suggestion of a BID for health and a BID for schools. Although the intricacies of how these would work in practice are still being considered, there is much that can be taken from how the existing models use community empowerment, and engagement between the public, third and private sectors to create sustainable and inclusive local economic growth in an area.

As well as their commercial enterprising side, BIDs are also realising their potential as agents of community development and improvement beyond that of economic input. The future currently looks bright for BIDs, which will hopefully mean that it also looks brighter for our local communities.


Business Improvement Districts Scotland is the national organisation for BIDs in Scotland, providing support, advice and encouragement to business groups, communities and local authorities considering and developing a business improvement district.

BIDs Scotland held its Annual Gathering on 28th March 2017 at Perth Concert Hall  with the theme of People – Place – Business: Business Improvement Districts – the key to economic growth.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in our other article on BIDs.

Information Service members can also access a research briefing on BIDs here (login required).

Local homes for local people? A referendum in Cornwall could have wider implications for developers of second homes

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St Ives, Cornwall. Image by neiljs via Creative Commons

Last year, a review of rural housing policy highlighted the concentration of second homes in rural areas. The study reported that in many coastal communities and villages in England’s national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, second homes make up over a quarter of the housing stock – and in some areas this can be as high as 80%.

From holiday havens to investment vehicles

Around 1.6 million people own second homes (properties that are not the owner’s principal residence) in England and Wales, while in Scotland there are about 35,000 second homes.

Second homes are not a new phenomenon. For many years, rural and coastal properties have been purchased as holiday getaways for city-dwellers. More recently, however, second homes have been snapped up as investments, with many left empty for much of the year.

The pros and cons of second homes

Proponents of second homes point to their positive impacts, including the income, jobs and patronage of services they can generate for hard-pressed local areas. One study has also pointed to the social value of second homes in connecting communities to new skills and knowledge. But critics of second homes claim that they distort the housing market and make it hard for local people to get on the property ladder.

The authors of the rural housing review underlined the effects of second homes on local communities and housing:

“Local people are often unable to compete with these buyers and the need for affordable housing becomes even more acute, but supply is very low. Their exclusion from these villages means there is not a large enough permanent population to support local services. The result is a vicious cycle of decline, leaving behind an ageing and increasingly vulnerable population.”

Changing the rules

The issue has come to a head in the Cornish town of St Ives, where residents will vote next week on a neighbourhood plan that includes a measure reserving all newly-built properties exclusively for local people.

The mayor of St Ives claims that the plan to reserve newly-built properties for locals is crucial to the town’s survival, telling The Guardian:

“You can’t overestimate the contribution of second home owners to the economy, but you have to look at the bigger picture. Where you don’t have a sustainable economy, over time the town will wither away. We don’t want that. We want to maintain a thriving community.”

The 2015 rural housing review recommended that areas experiencing high levels of second home ownership should require a proportion of new homes to be given planning permission with the condition that they can only be used as principal residences.

Council Tax discounts

Since 2013, local authorities have had powers to reduce the level of discount awarded for second homes.  Some councils, such as Hertsmere and Perth and Kinross now offer a 10% reduction on second homes, subject to certain conditions. However, Cornwall County Council has abolished its previous 10% discount. The council is so concerned about the rising number of second homes that it also wants to make conversions of properties to second homes subject to planning permission.

A ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’?

Last summer, two other parts of Cornwall gave ‘Yes’ votes to neighbourhood plans, one of which seeks to ensure that new homes do not add to numbers of second homes and holiday lets in the area. A similar referendum took place three years ago in the Devon community of Lynton and Lynmouth, where residents voted to stop the development of new second homes.

It’s possible that St Ives could follow suit, although at least one developer has indicated that it would challenge the plan under human rights law.

The St Ives referendum takes place on 5 May. While other parts of the country are watching the results for the devolved assemblies, local councils and the new mayor of London, the residents of St Ives will be waiting for a decision that could change the face of its economy. But as housing shortages continue to rise up the political agenda across the country, councils, home owners, planners and developers in other parts of the UK will be waiting for the St Ives result with particular interest.

Budget 2016 – 5 messages for local government

One pound coin on fluctuating graph. Rate of the pound sterling

By Heather Cameron

Last week George Osborne revealed the details of his 2016 Budget, at the centre of which was a major deterioration of the forecast for productivity growth. Last year, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) projected an average growth in productivity per hour of 1.9% between 2015-16 and 2020-21; that average is now 1.7%.

As a result, a further £3.5 billion of savings from public spending is to be found in 2019/20. While Osborne has suggested these savings are equivalent to 50p in every £100 the government spends, experts have warned that the figure is closer to £2 or £3 for services that haven’t been protected.

What does it mean for local government?

Despite no direct cuts for local government, it remains unclear where these savings will come from. And with ring fencing of much public spending, local government may yet again bear the brunt of these cuts one way or another.

Business rates

Concerns have been raised over the announcement to extend business rate relief, the revenue from which is 50% retained by councils. It was revealed that this will remove £7 billion from the total take in England over the next five years; 600,000 small businesses will pay no rates at all from next year.

While good news for small businesses, there are fears it could leave a huge hole in local government finances as all locally raised business rates are to be fully devolved by the end of 2020. This will be accompanied by the phasing out of central government grants, and the devolution of additional spending responsibilities.

The government says that “local government will be compensated for the loss of income as a result … and the impact considered as part of the government’s consultation on the implementation of 100% business rate retention in summer 2016.”

But details of how such compensation will work remain unknown. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has suggested that the government’s plans for reimbursing local government is “nigh on impossible”.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), if protection for council budgets isn’t extended to beyond the devolution of business rates, councils stand to lose £1.9bn per year, or 2.9% of their total revenues.

Benefits cuts

Further cuts to welfare spending could also have a knock-on effect. The Chancellor outlined controversial plans to reform Personal Independent Payments (PIP) for disabled people, to save £1.3 billion. Overall, £4.4 billion will be cut from benefits for disabled people over the course of the parliament.

The cuts to PIP have been described as ‘devastating’ for disabled people, with many relying on them to live independently. They could therefore lead to increasing pressure on already stretched local services.

Even the government’s own party members criticised these cuts, which have since led to the shock resignation of Iain Duncan Smith and a government U-turn on the reforms to PIP, which will now not go ahead.

But there is no alternative plan to fill the hole left by this U-turn so local government may still need to brace themselves for cuts elsewhere.

Education

Under the education reforms, every state school in England is to become an academy by 2020 or have a plan in place to do so by 2022, ending the century-old role of local authorities as providers of education.

But, as our recent blog has highlighted, there are ongoing concerns over the academy programme with little evidence to justify it.

The plans have been criticised by councils and teaching unions. Chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA) children and young people board, said:

We have serious concerns that regional schools commissioners still lack the capacity and local knowledge to have oversight of such a large, diverse and remote range of schools.”

Ofsted rated 82% of council maintained schools as good or outstanding, while the results of recent HMI inspections of academies has been described as “worrying”. The findings also highlighted a “poor use of public money”, something that has been reiterated by the LGA.

In response, the LGA noted that “councils have been forced to spend millions of pounds to cover the cost of schools becoming academies in recent years”.

Devolution deals

There was some better news for local government in the form of new devolution deals with the West of England, East Anglia, and Greater Lincolnshire. The West of England and East Anglia will each receive a £900 million investment fund over 30 years to boost economic growth, while Greater Lincolnshire’s deal is worth £450 million.

New powers over the criminal justice system are also to be transferred to Greater Manchester and business rates are to be fully devolved to the Greater London Authority next year, 3 years before everyone else.

The LGA welcomes these deals as recognition of the economic potential of all local areas and calls for a return to the early momentum in which similar deals were announced last year.

Flood defences

Another positive for local government was the £700 million funding boost for flood defences by 2020-21, including projects in York, Leeds, Calder Valley, Carlisle and across Cumbria, to be funded by a 0.5% increase in the standard rate of Insurance Premium Tax.

Considering the extent of recent winter flooding, this was welcomed by local government as a “step in the right direction”.

However, the LGA has stated that councils will need further help from government once the full cost of recent damage emerges. It has also called for flood defence funding to be devolved to local areas so the money can be spent on where it is really needed.

Final thoughts

So despite no direct cuts for local government, and the welcome boost to local economies and flood defences, it remains to be seen whether local government will lose out financially in the longer term.


Read our related blog on the total academisation of schools.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

 

Reputation is everything … the potential of city branding

iloveny instagram

Image: iloveny official instagram

“A brand, an idea, an identity, synonymous with New York as a city, its infrastructure, businesses, tourist hotspots, residents and tourists alike…..” The I Love New York logo dates back to 1977 and needs no introduction.

Meanwhile, a newer city logo I AMsterdam has also captured the public’s imagination. “The essence of a city encapsulated not only in a tag line or a logo but a concept, a thought process.”

Amsterdam 1

Getting to grips with place branding

These two examples aren’t just logos – they are examples of place branding. In an increasingly competitive global market, selling a town or city as the place to be is key not only to ensuring external and internal investment but also to retaining people, skills and talent within the local economy.

Place branding, may be seen as a step on from place marketing. It seeks not only to advertise and market a place to drive tourism. Instead it seeks to capture the essence of a place (whether real or aspirational). This brand is then embedded as part of a wider strategy and communicated to both residents and those outside, through business and commerce, transport, infrastructure, and events. If done effectively, the brand is a holistic channel for the desired message.

city branding collage

Place branding often seeks to influence the external perception that people and businesses have of a place – to either change preconceived ideas or stereotypes, or to use these as a way to advance the brand and promote its values.

Place branding is the “who” of a place, while marketing is “how” you go about communicating the ideas and values which make up the brand.”- Tom Buncle Destination Scotland.

Benefits for local authorities

However it is not just global cities that can benefit from place branding. Local authorities can use place branding as a strategic tool to advance investment and retain a talent pool within their local communities. Developing a brand strategy can also be a useful way to engage members of the community, and build partnerships and social value between residents and businesses.

Although often used to encourage tourism, place branding strategies can also help promote regeneration and community resilience. Such strategies can also help with asset-based strategies, as towns assess what they have and how they can maximise its potential. Place branding also gives members of the community and local stakeholders an input into the future vision for the place in which they live. This might include property development and regeneration, or events.Community concept word cloud background

However place branding is not always a universally popular approach. It can easily be misunderstood, especially at a time of budget and service cuts. The long term vision and investment required to successfully deliver place branding can also deter local authorities.

Keys to success

A key factor in a successful place branding strategy, according to the place branding manifesto, is making it inclusive, ensuring that as far as possible everyone within the community feels they can relate in some way to the brand and that it is truly reflective of the best elements of a community. This helps with both the adoption and maintenance of the brand in terms of everyday use, and can also help promote the brand internationally.

In 2014, The Guardian asked readers to contribute their own tag lines for city brands where they live. The results were interesting, but they also highlighted another core element to branding, rather than marketing. While a strapline and a logo are important (they are the most public face of a brand) they contribute very little if the wider brand values and promotion are lacking. Engagement, planning and long term strategy is key.

Successful place branding strategies like those seen in New York, Barcelona, Amsterdam and Glasgow are characterised by a synthesis of long term development, strategic vision, and branding strategy. They include a visual identity and a strap line which people see as inclusive and representative of the values of the place.

This allows them to promote their own unique qualities to an international audience, while engaging local people, businesses and government in the value of their project and the potential benefits of a common strategy and approach.


Our most recent Information Service member briefing explored the potential of place branding.

To find out more on how to become a member of the Idox Information Service, please get in touch.

Read some of our other blogs on regeneration and cities:

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

Fossil fuel divestment:an idea whose time has come?

Introduction

Within just a few years, fossil fuel divestment has overtaken previous campaigns targeting apartheid in South Africa and tobacco advertising to become the fastest growing divestment movement in history.

In September, a report from Arabella Advisors found that 436 institutions and 2,040 individuals across 43 countries and representing $2.6 trillion in assets had committed to divest from fossil fuel companies.

What is Fossil Fuel Divestment?

Organisations, communities and individuals commit to fossil fuel divestment (FFD) by making a public pledge to stop buying stocks, bonds and investment funds from energy companies whose primary business relies upon coal, gas or oil. They also promise to invest in climate solutions, such as clean energy and sustainable agriculture.

Who’s involved in FFD?

The roots of the FFD movement may be found in the college campuses of the United States, where student campaigning has resulted in around 40 educational institutions (including the universities of California, Georgetown and Stanford) making full or partial divestments from fossil fuels.

The movement has spread rapidly beyond the education sector, taking in religious groups, municipalities, NGOs and healthcare organisations. While most divesting institutions are US-based, FFD has also become a worldwide movement, with the cities of Oslo in Norway and Uppsala in Sweden, and the Australian Capital Territory Government making their own commitments. Pledges to divest from fossil fuels have also been made by some surprising sources, including the Australian city of Newcastle (home to the largest coal port in the world) and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (heirs to the Rockefeller oil fortune).

In the UK, the FFD movement has also seen exponential growth. Last year, the University of Glasgow became the first academic institution in Europe to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Since then, other higher education institutions, including the universities of Oxford and Surrey and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) have made pledges to reduce their fossil fuel investments.

Four UK local authorities – Oxford, Bristol, Kirklees and Cambridge – have committed to FFD, while councils in York, Bradford, Reading and Hackney are reviewing their fossil fuel investments.

Other high-profile organisations committing to FFD include the British Medical Association and the Environment Agency’s pension fund.

The factors driving FFD

Moral and economic arguments have converged to propel fossil fuel divestment. FFD advocates say it’s morally wrong to profit from climate change, a view powerfully expressed by Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

“Just as we argued in the 1980s that those who conducted business with apartheid South Africa were aiding and abetting an immoral system, we can say that nobody should profit from the rising temperatures, seas, and human suffering caused by the burning of fossil fuels.”

There is also a growing recognition in the business world of the financial risks associated with investment in fossil fuels. As the Arabella Advisors report observed:

“Reports by Citigroup analysts, HSBC, Mercer, the International Energy Agency, Bank of England, Carbon Tracker Initiative, and others have offered evidence of a significant, quantifiable risk to portfolios exposed to fossil fuel assets in a carbon constrained world. The leaders of several of the largest institutions to divest in the past year have cited climate risk to investment portfolios as a key factor in their decisions.”

At the same time, falling costs have made renewable energy more attractive both to consumers and investors, although investment in clean energy is far from the estimated $1 trillion annually needed to limit global warming to 2˚C.

Resistance and resurgence

FFD is not without its critics, and some organisations have resisted pressure to change.  Last month the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) rejected calls to divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry. Instead, MIT argued that engaging with the fossil fuels industry was a more effective way to address climate change. Similarly, Harvard University has declined to stop buying fossil fuel company stocks, claiming its research and teaching contributes to a better understanding of global warming.

But FFD campaigners are not backing down. In May the University of Edinburgh ruled out a wholesale sell-off of its £27m investments in oil, gas and coal companies. However, after a 10-day occupation by students the university clarified its position, and announced it would fully divest from three of the world’s biggest fossil fuel producers within six months.

There is also growing pressure on local authority pension funds to reduce their fossil fuel investments. In September, it was reported that UK local government pension funds hold over £14 billion in coal, oil and gas companies.

The focus now shifts to the UN Climate Change Conference, starting today in Paris. Divestment campaigners are making it clear that they expect governments attending the Paris summit to follow the lead of the FFD movement by committing to phase out support for the consumption and production of fossil fuels.


 

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in environment policy are interesting our research team.

Further reading

A beginner’s guide to fossil fuel divestment

The case for fossil-fuel divestment

 (Older) people power: the economic opportunities of an ageing society

By James Carson

Responding to a recent Ask-a-Researcher request for information about Britain’s ageing population, I found that an online search generated a discouraging set of headlines:

“Ageing UK population will increase strain on public spending”

“UK faces ‘debt timebomb’ from ageing population”

“UK woefully underprepared for ageing society”

Further down the list was something more positive:

“Britain’s retiring workers have never had it so good. As well as being among the last workers to benefit from generous final salary pensions, many older people have housing wealth, having got on to the property ladder long before the boom that has priced out many younger buyers. And thanks to new pension freedoms, which came into force in April, the over-55s can now withdraw money from their pension funds.”

If anything, this article from The Guardian was a little too upbeat – there was no mention of the tens of thousands of older people enduring fuel poverty.

But the story does highlight the growing market which older consumers represent for products and services.

The demographic trends

In many developed countries, ageing populations are being driven by two demographic trends: a declining birth rate due to women having fewer children than in previous generations; and increasing numbers of people living longer, thanks to improvements in diet and medicine.

The global population aged 60 or over is projected to more than triple by 2050, reaching approximately 2 billion people. In the UK, the number of people aged 65 and over is expected to increase from 10.3 million in 2010 to 16.9 million by 2035.

Harnessing the economic opportunities from an ageing population

Surveys of household income and expenditure have reported that older people devote a greater proportion of their total expenditure to necessities, such as food and drink, housing, fuel and power. Luxury items related to recreation and culture are also areas of significant expenditure for older households.

With the abolition of the default retirement age, many older people are continuing to lead productive working lives, and have financial security. The STUC recently published a report highlighting the potential economic contribution of women over 50 to the economy, although noting that they are often ignored in labour market and economic policy.

In 2011, a report for the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) suggested that harnessing the spend of older people will be increasingly important for both the private and public sectors.

The research pointed to ways in which an ageing society might affect the economy:

  • Changes in housing needs may provide opportunities for developers and the construction industry to explore new types of housing provision to support older people.
  • Retired people, such as former business managers, may be interested in setting up their own business, or investing in local enterprises.
  • More retired people may become interested in playing a wider role in the community through voluntary work, something that may become even more important as public services are cut back.
  • Older people will also be increasingly important to the labour market, and there are opportunities to explore how their experience and skills can be best used.

Earlier this year, a report from the International Longevity Centre-UK also highlighted the importance of design and technology in responding to the needs of older people, and outlined what needs to happen in order for new technologies to live up to their full potential. Among the recommendations:

  • Ensuring homes meet lifetime homes standards and neighbourhoods adopt age friendly guidelines.
  • Tackling digital exclusion to ensure older people maximise the benefits of new technology.
  • Providing more evidence on what works to help designers, marketers and retailers understand the potential economic return of targeting older consumers.

The report provided some examples of innovative technologies that could make a significant difference to the lives of older people, including:

  • a kettle which monitors blood pressure;
  • lights which adapt to the level of daylight in a room;
  • driverless cars;
  • a secure platform enabling the management of bank accounts, bills and pensions through one simple portal.

The ageing population presents challenges for government, business and society in general. However, growth in this section of the population also brings with it emerging economic opportunities. That’s something worth remembering on this International Day of Older Persons.


 

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