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Reflections on green finance and the Excellence in Place Leadership programme

20 May 2020

Janna Walker, Head of Service for Highways Commissioning for Leicestershire County Council, offers her thoughts about the Excellence in Place Leadership programme and in particular, session 2 on green finance.

It seems like a long time since I joined the programme, given how we have since been living through the pandemic and the impacts of lockdown and much has changed since then. I applied to the programme for the opportunity of exchanging ideas and thoughts with senior leaders, to see how they problem solve and support and learn from each other. It attracted me because I was looking for a programme that could have a practical impact on my everyday work. I wanted to focus on how we grow our places sustainably, balancing the challenges of climate change and infrastructure needs - and pinch the best bits to take back!

Reflecting on the impacts of coronavirus and the need to work towards the renewal of our local economies and communities, I have been thinking about how green finance can offer local authorities a way to plan for the future. As we rebuild our economies, climate change must be central to our planning, and an opportunity for green finance to become an intrinsic part of the system.

At Leicestershire we have a huge programme of schemes, initiatives and projects aimed at supporting growth, so I was particularly excited to explore how we grow our places sustainably in line with our climate and infrastructure challenges. Over the last two years we have seen the road network deteriorate due to flooding and extreme weather so for me, addressing the impact of climate change and having a sustainable financial plan for doing so is critical. Now, with the added imperative to address the impacts of Covid-19, many of these projects will be reviewed to align with our plans for recovery and renewal.

Initially, I thought the green finance session was going to be quite daunting, but it proved to be the opposite. We started with understanding the Government’s perspective, as set out in the Green Finance Strategy, but also for local authorities, in terms of greening finance and financing green.

We know that there are many opportunities for local authorities to both seek funding and fund projects that contribute to carbon reduction and clean growth targets. But what is the best approach? The session presented two options – firstly to consider green financing for projects that are environmentally focused or secondly, and more sophisticatedly, to understand the impact of a whole portfolio and demand that all local authority funding works to reduce carbon and other environmental impacts. This will be more vital than ever now.

Capturing the opportunities is another strand where local authorities can contribute – in my case data and analysis of transport impacts. Partnering with the finance industry could give us a better understanding of the impact big changes to our transport system can have on the economy, thus broadening our forecasting and helping us to plan for place. The potential future scenarios have changed with the pandemic, but they remain something we can invest in. 

Hearing how real businesses are using green finance - our speakers included HSBC and Avivia - was really beneficial, as they offered knowledge and experience that we could consider from a local authority perspective. For example, the development of accessible data presented on a comparative basis, could help identify risks and challenges for us. They also got really stuck into debates, which was refreshing!

Sometimes, I feel balancing the climate agenda and a highways transport programme is an impossible challenge, adding in recovery from Coronavirus adds yet another level of complexity. This session was another reminder that to make progress you have to break things down into manageable steps, and even more so now. We will need to move away from a project by project basis, to a more developed programme level understanding of how the significant investment we make at LCC in place related issues can better contribute to carbon reduction targets, and the resilience and recovery of our infrastructure and communities.

For me, this session was fantastic. It really brought green finance to life, rather than confining it to large financial institutions developing technical strategies that are difficult to relate to our day to day business. The session taught me that local authorities, albeit with shrinking resources can play a part in maximising investment that supports environmental targets.  And that we have a responsibility to structure our own financial planning to take account of the impact of climate change.

The Excellence in Place Leadership programme is a unique opportunity to meet with colleagues and partners, and discuss how we can make real effective changes to how we work across the sector. The programme is even more important now, but the challenge for all of us is the same, how to start.

ADEPT and Amey have co-produced The Green Finance Toolkit (published 21st May).