Agenda item


Report of the Executive Director (Place) on Wenta’s Action Zero Programme.


Report of the Executive Director (Place) on Wenta’s Action Zero Programme.


Over 99% of the Welwyn Hatfield business community is an SME.  They therefore have a crucial role to play in tackling climate change. However, many of the businesses just do not know where to start.


WENTA is a not-for-profit social enterprise that exists to make it easier and greener to start and run a successful business and their actions zero programme will support and guide the boroughs SMEs to understand what actions they need to take to reduce their carbon emissions.


The programme has already been successfully delivered in Hertsmere Council, Stevenage Borough Council and Watford Borough Council.


The project would deliver the Zero Gold programme to up to 100 SMEs at the cost of the Zero Silver Package, which provides a saving of about £1,800.  Invoices will be received monthly, ensuring that payment is only required for the number of businesses that subscribe to the programme.  The Zero Gold package is made up of webinars and e-learning content including carbon foot printing and target setting and planning and they will also have access to an experienced Net Zero business adviser.


The project fits really nicely with the approved climate change strategy, which commits to working with and supporting, encouraging and engaging businesses in initiatives to reduce carbon emissions.


The council will receive from WENTA a quarterly report on the number of sign-ups, and share business post code date of sign-up, age of business and provide case studies on those businesses who have made significant progress. Updates will be given to members at the meetings.


The following points were noted:


·       Members thought it seems quite a useful and assistive direction for SMEs to go into and support them in building their business.

·       The Executive Member for Climate Change asked what is the total reserve, so that members had an idea of the scale of the commitment. Officers stated £150,000 was allocated quite a few years ago, and have about £65,000 left in reserves.

·       The Executive Member for Climate Change asked is there a path for SMEs from the achievement of the programme to achieve something like ISO 14,001? One of the things that seems to be missing is that, whilst there is action that the Council can ask SMEs to undertake to achieve net zero, there are other environmental gains that might go alongside that and actually the development of SMEs towards a full blown lifecycle assessment of products they are producing and an environmental management certification like a ISO 14,001 might be something that is quite attractive for SMEs to consider and engage with and draw them in.  Officers stated at the end of the one year long programme, there is a gold plus standard that WENTA have and businesses could sign up to that at their own expense. It is around £150. The council can point them in the right direction to something else they should have a look at e.g. newsletters, or webinars.

·       Members were worried about the initiative as the Executive Member for Climate Change is asking questions about the initiative and did not have time to consider it themselves. Members were concerned about taking money out of the earmarked reserves and if it is the right thing to use the money on especially if there were better projects to spend the money on. Officers stated that the report has followed the correct process and it went to a Senior Leadership Team meeting and it was agreed at the meeting. Officers did not receive any queries prior to the meeting agenda being published. 

·       The Executive Member clarified the commitment of the funds is not the total commitment of the entirety of the funds. It is a commitment to support the subscriptions that come forward from the SME community and if you look at the Stevenage example in the paper, it quite clearly indicates that just slightly less than half of their subscriptions have been taken up and the council are being asked to commit to up to 100 subscriptions. The Council do not know how many of those subscriptions will actually be taken up, so we're not actually committing at this stage to spending the entirety of that money, we may be committing to spending half of it. It may be substantially less depending on the type of the scheme. 

·       Members suggested deferring the item until the next meeting in September so further information can be gathered on the project.

·       Members stated Stevenage Borough Council purchased 100 subscriptions, 49 businesses have subscribed but it is not clear following the one year, how many of those have taken on their own subscriptions. There is a note saying 39% have operated their business for more than three years, but it does not say whether they signed up to WENTA following the one year so there is a slight risk. Members asked how many of the businesses that had taken up the project would be continuing with it?  Officers stated that when they met with Stevenage it was a while ago and they were at the very early stages. So 50 had signed up almost immediately and not had an update since then. Just on the sustainability, it is a stand alone package, if the council receive a 100 businesses subscribing, they would have been started on their journey, they would have done webinars, would have had a whole year to access the business advisor and have an action plan. Then it is entirely up to the business whether they choose to do the Gold plus standard with WENTA or do another accreditation by themselves and they would not be a burden on the council but they would have gotten quite a lot out of the year long programme.

·       Members thought it might be useful to reconnect with Stevenage Council to see how they are doing with the programme since it was started.

·       Members asked what is the actual reduction in carbon footprint of the SMEs that sign up, which presumably is information WENTA must have if they are assessing whether they are compliant with a particular standard?  Officers stated they will go back to WENTA and pass on the comments and ask for that information. It may be at the end of the year the business now understands and starts to put an action plan together.  The cost of each business is about £100 and it is there to get them started. Not expecting them to make massive changes but hopefully they start to understand what they have to look at such as their own business premises, suppliers and they put together an action plan. 

·       Members asked if there was any early indication with the SMEs the council is already providing advice to that may be interested in this scheme and going towards action points 69 of the climate change action plan around engagement specific on residents and businesses.  Officers stated they think there will be lots of interest in the project but have not yet started to promote it yet to the businesses but wanted to know members were happy to take the initiative forward first before promoting it.

·       The Executive Member stated the council could use this project as a signpost and give direction to nudge businesses in the right direction.

·       It was noted the commitment that Stevenage made to WENTA was made on the 18 July 2022 so it is still quite a new scheme.

·       The Executive Member stated the group could agree the project and review it in three months' time to see what the take-up has been, what the initial feedback of the scheme is, and evaluate whether the council want to continue it.

·       Members asked if there were any other good projects the money could be used on? Officers stated there was currently no projects out there. Officers have worked closely with WENTA.  Hertsmere Council and Watford Borough Council have signed up and it is going well for the authorities.

·       Members wanted more information from Stevenage Council and how they are getting on with the project and wanted to know if more SMEs had signed up.

·       Members asked if the project is intended to accredit the company at the end of the programme after they sign up to it.  Officers stated it is not an accreditation.  One of the advantages of the upgrade to the gold programme is that businesses get a gold certification from WENTA at the conclusion of the programme which they are permitted to use in advertising. One of the other advantages of the gold programme from the silver is that in addition to the e-learning and the webinars, they do get tailored one-to-one coaching, so there is that personal engagement which does help prevent the drop of rights, which if it was only an e-learning resource that could potentially be an issue.

·       Members asked what connections do the council have currently with SMEs and is there a programme for contacting them and is it the first time going outside of the council? Officers stated they have fantastic engagement with SMEs. The council ran a project recently called the eastern new energy, it is a ERDF funded project and the council had a target to carry out 30 energy audits with local businesses. Welwyn Hatfield was one of the few delivery partners, that exceeded the target and got 33.  The council had a disability conference event a few weeks ago and 110 businesses attended.

·       Members agreed to defer the decision until officers receive additional information from Stevenage Borough Council on the success of their campaign and get some objective assessment of their progress. Some information about how many of the SMEs took it up and subscribed to the scheme after one year and how many completed the program, how many of them subsequently signed up to a gold award.  Also ask WENTA for information on carbon reduction as well. Send it around to the group in an email, with the expectation that there will be response from the members of the group saying happy to proceed, not happy to proceed or abstain from the decision, and a majority of responses supporting it would result in commitments of funding the decision been made. The timescale for a response from members was agreed as between a week and 10 days.




(1)   Members of the Climate Change Sub-Group agreed to defer the drawing down up to £9,999 of the Climate Change earmarked reserves to support a maximum of 100 SMEs achieving gold status within the Wenta Action Zero Programme.


(2)  Members asked officers for additional information from Stevenage Borough Council on the success of their campaign and get some objective assessment of their progress. Some information about how many of the SMEs took up and subscribed to the scheme after one year and how many completed the program, how many of them subsequently signed up to a gold award.  Also ask WENTA for information on carbon reduction as well.

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