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Technical Briefing Introduction: Developing and Maintaining Effective Partnerships and Stakeholder Relationships

The challenge

Achieving low carbon housing is a vital step in the road to net zero as around a fifth of UK carbon emissions come from energy use in homes. Reducing emissions from homes also contributes towards other critical priorities such as reducing fuel poverty; energy retrofitting of homes can also help to improve health, wellbeing and educational outcomes. Local authorities have a key role in driving forwards retrofit at scale in order to realise these multiple benefits for their places and their people.

However, energy retrofit of homes is a new and complex activity for local authorities to deliver. It requires working across internal departments and also externally with funders, the retrofit supply chain, householders, social housing providers and the wider community. While much of this is within the control and experience of the local authority, there are many factors that are outside local authority control. These include the maturity of the local retrofit supply chain, the number and availability of sufficiently skilled contractors, the nature of funding programmes and the measures they may prioritise (which may compound problems in the supply chain), and the readiness of householders of different tenures to engage with energy retrofit.

The Local Retrofit Action Planning programme

The LGA commissioned a project across 2021 to 2022 to consider the retrofit skills of local authority officers. It discovered that many local authorities were under-resourced and working in isolation. It also found that local authorities were hampered in their retrofit efforts by local supply chains facing shortages of materials and labour, by a shortage of sufficiently skilled contractors, and by local communities that were not fully engaged with retrofit. However, the programme also brought to light many good examples of retrofit delivery, where local authorities overcame these barriers by developing collaborative working relationships with the supply chain, with the community, and with each other across regions.

This Local Retrofit Action Planning programme follows on from that programme. It is designed to increase the skills and capabilities within local authority teams delivering retrofit by focussing on three key areas critical for successful delivery:

  • Working with skills and training providers – to ensure there are adequate skills available locally as demand for retrofit rises.
  • Working with the retrofit supply chain – to understand the pressures, needs and opportunities faced by local businesses and support development of a local supply chain for retrofit
  • Working with local residents and community groups – as raising awareness, creating demand and ensuring a supportive customer journey exists is very important in retrofit delivery.

All three areas require local authorities to develop effective partnerships, so developing and maintaining effective partnership and stakeholder relationships is the overarching theme of this programme. The aim is for this programme to lead to the creation of action plans for retrofit delivery; tangible steps towards the creation of pipelines of retrofit work. The action plan activity may vary from a full retrofit programme action plan to confirmation of an engagement plan to develop one of the 3 areas of partnership working or a briefing on the processes and opportunities for scaling up retrofit to senior Council officers and elected member.


Originally intended to benefit 15 individuals from different local authorities, this programme has nevertheless welcomed applications from teams of people from 42 different local authorities across all regions of England. The retrofit skills programme demonstrated that it is often challenging to work across departments within local authorities, so this programme aims to overcome this by inviting individuals from different departments to come together in a safe space to have these conversations.

The LGA worked with each applicant local authority to think through who the right people from each local authority were, from newer junior officers to senior directors.

Programme layout

This programme is made up of five technical briefings to discuss the challenges of partnership working in general, and across those three crucial themes. The technical briefings are followed by coaching sessions which gather together council teams across regions. These allow participants to unpick the technical briefings in detail and explore what they can learn for their own challenges in their own authority. The coaching sessions give the opportunity to discuss challenges with neighbouring councils, and potentially how these can be overcome together. The sessions will also give attendees the opportunity to discuss their own local authority’s retrofit actions and challenges in a safe space, to allow candid and honest discussions.

The first technical briefing: developing effective partnerships

The first technical briefing sought to discuss with participants how to build effective partnerships. Participants were invited to kick off by discussing:

  • what makes for good partnership and stakeholder relationships
  • what gets in their way
  • what is certain to derail them
  • what will make them perform beyond expectations?

Several themes emerged from this discussion:

  • good partnerships are built upon clear mutually agreed goals, with buy in from all stakeholders, transparency and clear leadership, both operational and political
  • expertise is clearly needed, as is a high level of trust and regular communication
  • relationships need to be mutually beneficial; for instance if a contractor does good quality work for a council and builds good relationships with its tenants, then they can be assured of repeat work  
  • diversity in partnerships was considered important so that any one voice did not become dominant.

Participants highlighted a number of challenges to building partnerships. One was the length of time it takes to build proper partnerships; often the retrofit funding landscape does not allow for this time. This leads to problems such as difficulty in persuading contractors to be Trust marked. Ways to overcome this challenge might be to use existing partnerships, such as with Skills providers, and get those same people around a table with a slightly different focus. There is also the challenge of differing agendas and priorities between the partners, and a lack of understanding of each other’s priorities and context.

Finally, a key challenge to partnerships in the retrofit landscape is finding people with the right skills and expertise. There is a widely recognised lack of retrofit skills in the building trades, and relevant knowledge in local authorities can be lost when staff leave and are not replaced or does not exist at all currently, as there is no role or allocation of responsibility for this within other roles.

These questions of good partnerships were put into perspective through the concept of systemic governance, which includes hard and soft elements. Hard elements include organisational structures, policies and procedures, strategy and purpose, budgeting and finance, funding models, legal structures and new models. It is in these elements that we need innovation. Soft elements include culture, ways of working, relationships, decision making, power dynamics, dealing with conflict, leadership, communication and transparency, roles and accountability, participation and ownership, and identity. To use those soft elements to better advantage, we need to make them explicit.

This led into a general discussion of governance. The definition given of this was “Governance refers to an established group of people to whom we are accountable, they set policy and funding – they represent legitimate interests in our work, its impacts and outcomes”Participants were then invited to join their breakout rooms to discuss how best to govern retrofit partnerships.

There was discussion over how best to structure the partnerships; should they be led by a local authority and what tier should that local authority be? Would contractors, with their arguably better knowledge of retrofit, be best placed to lead?  It was felt that more time was needed to work this out, and that more work needed to be done with communities to include them as well. The challenges of silos within local authorities (and the resulting lack of powers of partnerships that do not properly cross those silos) were also highlighted. This can be overcome by bringing in director-level insight, to help bridge those gaps and help give meaningful power. The challenge of informal governance was also discussed; some councils felt that project management of contractors can be weak as council staff did not have the knowledge to be able to assure themselves that money is being spent correctly. Finally, the discussion highlighted the challenge of councils who do not manage housing stock directly – partnership working here is even more crucial

Six Rules of Clarification in Complex Places

Finally, a TED talk of Yves Morieux discussing six rules to help create clarity in complex places was shown. Morieux describes these six rules as:

  1. Understand what people do
  2. Reinforce integrators (give managers more powers to integrate) – remove layers, remove rules!
  3. Increase the total quantity of power
  4. Extend the shadow of the future so consequences are clear
  5. Increase reciprocity
  6. Reward those who co-operate

Morieux highlights the challenge of trying to add more systems in already complex systems. He argues for co-operation, as this uses less resources. We need to stop focusing on creating new processes (‘drawing boxes and lines’) and start looking at interplay. Participants then discussed how the ideas presented in this clip helped them see their challenges differently.

This prompted some fascinating discussions. Participants agreed it was critical to understand what people do, and that this could be a real challenge in siloed apartments. Efforts should be made to really understand all stakeholders and their strengths and weaknesses; this could lead to a unified vision that would lead to good outcomes. Feedback to BEIS was considered an important part of this, to work towards simplifying their processes. It was further suggested that managers needed to take an ‘emergency’ view of retrofit, and that staff recruitment could be based upon values and behaviours, and seeing where challenges interact, rather than specific expertise. Consortium working across regions were highlighted as very important; taking expertise from other councils.

However, there are some challenges here. Local authorities have processes in place to manage accountability, transparency, risk and liability, there need to be some rules to manage these, particularly in the context of retrofit. However, participants did agree that in such challenging circumstances, adopting Morieux’s sixth rule; reward those who co-operate, and that ‘blame should not be about failure but failure to help’ was particularly important. This, and the agreement that with trust and agreed outcomes in partnerships, all would fall into place, was the positive and galvanising note on which the first technical briefing came to a close.

Highlighted pages

Climate change resources