The goal of mySociety’s climate programme is to try and reduce the estimated 33%  of UK emissions that are within the scope of local authorities’ activities. To be systematic about what that might mean, we’ve tried to categorise all local authority services and activities into three broad areas:

  • Service delivery is where councils’ direct  or outsourced activities have an implication for emissions. This includes their own facilities, services run directly or those externally procured. For instance, waste disposal and coastal protection are both services in this category, and our initial pass put 71 services in this category.
  • Enforcement and regulation is where councils have power to reduce third party/citizen emissions through regulatory frameworks. This might include transport or building regulation, or enforcement of regulations of the private rental sector (80 services). 
  • Place making is where local government have a coordinating/enabling role in emissions generated by third parties/citizens within their boundaries. This will involve fewer actual duties to take action, but a greater coordinating role, including general planning and research, borrowing and investment powers or strategic economic planning (90 services). 

Using the ESD standard list of services provided by local authorities in England and Wales, a first pass identified services that might have relevance to emissions reduction (trying to be inclusive when in doubt). A second pass then assigned those services to at least one of the categories above. 

The results of this process are in a GitHub repository. This is an initial test of this concept and the list, and classifications may be refined over time. Future additions might further distinguish powers from duties (where authorities can take action versus when they have to take action) and broad/specific service descriptions. 

Internally, we’re using this list as a reminder of the wide range of activities local authorities have responsibility for, and to consider whether different groups of these services may be suitable for similar kinds of external interventions or services we might build as part of our work. As a dataset, this might eventually be able to add value directly to services. For instance the description data could be used in a machine learning approach as described in this paper for tagging and improving search of plans in the Climate Action Plan Explorer

Alternative approaches

The Climate Change Committee report on local authorities has two alternate ways of dividing local government functions. 

The first is a list of areas of local government responsibility that relate to emissions:

  • An overarching role to support the economic, health and social wellbeing of communities
  • Powers to ensure buildings meet basic energy efficiency standards
  • Duties to prevent homelessness and prevent hazards in housing
  • Duties to manage risk including climate risks such as flooding
  • Duties and powers to protect the environment, wildlife and heritage
  • Duties to collect and dispose of waste
  • Borrowing and investment powers

The second is a 6 stage “onion” diagram of activities based on the Centre for Sustainability model, where each layer accounts for a larger slice of emissions, but is less directly under the power of the council:

  • Direct control: buildings, operations, travel
  • Procurement: plus commissioning & commercialisation
  • Place shaping: using powers to control development and transport
  • Showcasing: innovating, piloting, demonstrating and sharing good practice, scaling and replicating
  • Partnerships: leading bringing people and organisations together, coordinating and supporting others, joining others’ partnerships
  • Involving, Engaging and Communicating: translating global and national climate change targets for local relevance, with stakeholders to raise awareness, involving people & ideas for local solutions

Onion Diagram based on internal Centre for Sustainability model. A series of 6 expanding circles that correspond to the list above.

Most of these fit into the placemaking category used above, but more generally our approach recognises a distinct regulation role that might be supported in a different way by potential future services to placemaking approaches. 

Header image:  愚木混株 cdd20 on Unsplash

Original source – mySociety

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