HL Deb 20 May 2002 vol 635 cc509-10
Lord Ezra

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made with the Warm Front scheme to improve the energy efficiency of low-income households.

The Parliamentary Under–Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, the UK Fuel Poverty Strategy was published last November. Its first target is to seek an end to fuel poverty for vulnerable households by 2010.

The Home Energy Efficiency Scheme in England, launched in June 2000, is now marketed as the Warm Front Team. The scheme provides packages of insulation and heating measures to private sector households who receive certain benefits.

Warm Front has assisted over 350,000 households and spent £180 million on installing measures.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, while noting the progress made under the Warm Front scheme, is the noble Lord aware that the short–term nature of the contracts in England and Wales offered to the installers of heating equipment and insulation prevents them from planning ahead and retaining adequate skilled staff, which in turn has led to a substantial backlog of orders? Is the noble Lord further aware that those problems have been avoided in Scotland where longer–term arrangements are in place? Could we learn from the Scottish experience?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, we are prepared to learn from all experience but the difference between the position in Scotland and that in England is that Scottish firms are allowed to broaden the services which they offer. Therefore, it is not the contracts themselves which give them longer-term, more stable arrangements. Some of the problems that arose at the beginning of the scheme as regards the supply of insulation firms and of insulation staff have largely been overcome. We have certainly speeded up the operation in recent months. We are now on target to meet our objectives.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, the scheme was set up to target vulnerable households. Therefore, why in the other place did the Government vote against their own targets in a Private Member's Bill the other day which sought to improve conservation of energy, to assist the most vulnerable and to get rid of had landlords? Do the Government intend to support that Bill in July?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the Private Member's Bill to which the noble Lord refers would in its present form have committed substantial resources over and above what are committed under the energy efficiency scheme and other schemes. It was therefore not appropriate for the Government to support a Private Member's Bill which had those resource implications.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, is it not a fact that this is but one of the many measures that will be needed if the Government are to come anywhere near achieving the targets set out in the PIU report for energy savings up to 2020? Is it not the case that when governments regard targets as challenging they have absolutely no hope whatever of reaching them? Is that not rather a dreadful position?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the first part of the noble Lord's supplementary question is correct but I dispute the second part. Clearly the scheme is but one part of the programme to improve the energy performance of domestic sector households which will need to make a substantial contribution to meeting our carbon saving targets. It is skewed also to meet the social objectives which we have set out which are intended to cover all vulnerable households by 2010. There are a substantial number of other programmes, including the energy efficiency commitment, the building regulations improvements and various other schemes to improve efficiency in the domestic sector as a contribution towards the overall target. As the noble Lord will know, there are a substantial number of measures in the industrial, transport and energy sectors.

Baroness Maddock

My Lords, are the Government satisfied with the statistics and research relating to the operation of the Warm Front scheme? It seems to me that there is some confusion about the number of properties that have been treated and the number of people who have been taken out of fuel poverty. If the scheme is to be successful, it needs to be flexible and good data are needed to take it forward.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am not aware that there is a general problem as regards identifying the relevant number of households. I refer to the initial commitment as regards social housing. The matter we are discussing is primarily related to the private sector. Broader improvements to housing facilities within the social housing sector have subsumed insulation improvements. That may be the matter to which the noble Baroness refers. However, in general, we can say confidently that the scheme has helped, as I said, 350,000 households.

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