But isn’t it different in Scotland (Wales, England or Northern Ireland)? How our draft methodology accounts for differences in data collection and legislation across the four nations of the UK
The UK’s local government structure is confusing. And it gets even more so when you add in the varying powers of the devolved nations. This blog covers some of the main differences in powers and data that we found when researching how to measure UK council climate action.
For the majority of questions, we were able to find questions that work across all four nations. Or, where this wasn’t possible, we were able to find additional data or amend the criteria slightly so that the question could work across all nations. However, there are some differences we want to cover in this blog. By better understanding the data and power differences across the four nations that we found in creating the Council Climate Action Scorecards it gives scope for some potential analysis for how climate action is limited and supported in different ways in the devolved nations of the UK.
Data available only for English Councils
For some questions, the data is only available for England, such as the bus ridership national data and the number of biodiversity sites in positive conversation management. Equivalent data for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland for these questions is not available. However, we didn’t want to not include these questions for England, as they are useful questions that can helpfully indicate the support for public transport buses and biodiversity from a council in England.
Data collected separately by the nations but comparable
For some questions there is data that is collected and comparable across all four nations. Although sometimes the data needed a bit of extra work to make it comparable due to differences in data collection. We found this to be the case for residual waste and recycling statistics and EPC ratings. There is an argument for this data to be standardised, especially for residual waste data, as recycling data is standardised across the UK, however this is a much smaller issue than data just not being available.
The waste statistics we are using are from four organisations from each nation. Recycling data for local authorities is easily comparable, and collected by DEFRA in England, Stats Wales (for Wales, obviously), SEPA in Scotland and DAERA-NI for, you guessed it, Northern Ireland. Data on residual waste is easily comparable for England and Wales as DEFRA and Stats Wales both provide the data as kg of residual waste per household within each local authority. Scotland and Northern Ireland only provide the data of kg of residual waste per local authority, so we are dividing this by the number of households in each area in order for the data to be comparable.
The EPC ratings of homes in the local authority area is data that is collected separately, like the waste statistics. The UK government collects this data for England and Wales via gov.uk, Scotland collects this via SEPA and Northern Ireland collects this data but it is not publicly available. We were able to get this Northern Irish data via an Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Northern Ireland Department of Finance for the trial mark, and will send an updated FOI request next year in order to have up to date data for Northern Ireland.
The impact of differing legislation across the nations
The differing legislation across the UK means that some councils will automatically get a point, because of the impact of devolved legislation. For example, all Scottish councils will automatically get a point in our question on whether a council is reporting on its climate action because the Scottish Parliament mandates all Scottish councils to report on climate action via the Sustainable Scotland Network. This is a good example of how, if devolved or national policy changed as it has in Scotland, all UK councils could be reporting on climate action as default. All Scottish councils will also automatically get points on reducing single use plastic as the Scottish parliament, since 2022 has banned the sale and use of multiple uses of single-use plastic. Actions like this in our Scorecards show that councils can take these actions, although some actions are arguably easier to achieve with devolved or UK national government support.
In our Buildings & Heating section we have a question on whether the council provides a service to support private homeowners to make their homes more energy efficient. Both Scotland and Wales have their own national services, so councils in these nations will be awarded the point as long as the council directly links to this service from their council pages. Again, this is another example of how devolved nations can carry out work that can support councils in their climate action.
The power to enforce Minimum Energy Efficient Standards is an important role that councils have that can make a difference on improving the energy efficiency, warmth and heating costs of privately rented homes in the area. Only Welsh and English councils have had this enforcing power since 2020. Scotland has plans to introduce similar legislation, though aims to make the minimum EPC rating C, rather than E, for private rented homes in Scotland. As this legislation hasn’t yet come into force, this question won’t apply to Scottish councils. Northern Irish councils also don’t have this enforcing power, so this question doesn’t apply to Northern Irish councils either. In Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Executive has the enforcement power that requires all rented homes to have an EPC rating, but there is no legislation on the minimum EPC rating rented homes should be.
Planning legislation and building standards differ across the nations
There are variances between the devolved nations planning legislation, which has led to variance in the questions we ask in this section for different nations. For example, within England the lowest levels of water consumption that can be required in new builds is 110 litres per person per day but it is up to the councils to set this. Scottish Councils can go further and the Welsh national policy mandates 110 litres per person per day, but in order to make the question work across all three nations, we have set the standard for what qualifies for a point as the lowest common denominator – England’s voluntary 110 litres per person per day..
All four nations have different standards of regulations for new homes. The building standards are comparable as they target the same issues, such as space energy efficiency, but the difference in how strict the standards are. UK local authorities have the power to go above the national standards in their respective nation. But the national standards have recently been updated in England, Scotland and Wales with updated standards coming into place in 2025 in Wales and England. Therefore we have asked questions that are comparable between the nations by asking local authorities to make improvements on the national building standards.
As a team all currently living in England, we learnt a lot about the devolved nations’ differences in this work, and so did our Advisory Group, who work in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England. When we publish the results of our Council Climate Action Scorecards we think that this will provide considerable data to show how different legislation in each of the devolved nations impacts on council climate action in various ways. Stay tuned for the Scorecard results in Autumn 2023 to truly understand this. For now, we hope this blog has been useful in learning about the differences and similarities in policies and data across the UK nations.