As a distinguished member of the Environmental Audit Committee, my hon. Friend has recently returned from the Arctic, where he saw the impacts of climate change. We recognise the importance of enabling local areas to play their part in delivering net zero. The net zero strategy and net zero growth plan set out our commitments on how we would help them to do exactly that.
Local authorities have an overwhelming role in achieving net zero, but in the last hour the National Audit Office has told my office that central Government have not developed overall expectations about local authority roles in achieving net zero. There is little consistency in local authority reporting on net zero, making it difficult to gauge achievements. Neither the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities nor the Treasury has assessed the totality of funding for local authorities to achieve net zero, with the nature of grant funding hindering value for money. So will the Minister carry out an analysis of local authority funding for net zero to inform the next comprehensive spending review, set up an appropriate review to assess the extent to which local authorities in practice have been able to use wider funding for economic growth and levelling up, and work with local authorities to assess the skills gap?
The Government invest £5 million a year in the local net zero hub programme. We have established the UK Infrastructure Bank, with an initial £12 billion of capital, for the twin goals of tackling climate change and levelling up, and it includes a specific loan facility for local government to deliver net zero. We are looking at other ways of enabling and encouraging local authorities to do more. The details of a devolution deal for retrofit pilots in Manchester and the west midlands will soon be worked out, and I look forward to that being pioneered.
One risk to net zero is the delay in grid connections. The Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee wrote to the Secretary of State recently to highlight the problem of speculative applications for connections. These are applications that do not yet have planning permission and many never get it, but are clogging up the queuing system. What can be done to fix that?
The right hon. Gentleman, as so often, is absolutely right; this is a real issue. We have Nick Winser working on the transmission system and he will report next month. On the distribution level, to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, we will be coming up with a connections plan later this year and working with Ofgem to make sure that we have a system that weeds out projects that are clogging up the system and yet will never be delivered, and make sure that the ones that can be delivered get to the front of the queue.