UK devolution and divergence in energy efficiency policies: Scotland and England

Professor Janette Webb

Portrait of Jannette
Professor Janette Webb, University of Edinburgh.

This seminar examines diverging energy efficiency policy commitments, instruments and financing in England and Scotland, consequent on UK devolved government. Drawing on institutional theory, it analyses the political dynamics associated with the mix of relevant powers, and the scope for interpretative flexibility to enable differential policy formation. Differing political-economic commitments in UK Conservative-led, and Scottish SNP-led, governments have sustained a motive for Scottish policy divergence. UK governments have prioritised short-term energy prices in liberalised markets, reducing ‘green levies’ on energy tariffs, and minimising public funding for energy efficiency. In contrast Scottish policy has centred on a social market model, cultivating distinctive institutions to legitimise economically consequential commitments to universal retrofit of building stock. Lacking powers over energy supply, Scottish policy-makers have taken a whole systems approach to reducing carbon emissions, constituting demand-side policies as political opportunities for economic and welfare gains, rather than as cost burdens.

The result is a more planned approach, with specific policy instruments and financial commitments, in Scotland than England. The material impacts of diverging policy remain uncertain.


Janette Webb MBE FEI is Edinburgh University Professor of Sociology of Organisations, Co-Director of the UK Energy Research Centre, and member of the Scottish Science Advisory Council and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Energy Scientific Advisory Committee.

Her research concerns social studies of energy and climate change. With funding from UK Research and Innovation, she is studying European comparative heat and energy efficiency governance, and local and regional energy systems. Further work is evaluating the Energy Efficient Scotland Pilots. The research is used in 2017 Scottish Government Energy Strategy  Consultations and 2018 UK Government Clean Growth: Transforming Heating.

She was awarded an MBE for services to the energy transition in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2020. She is a Fellow of the Energy Institute and member of Scottish Power Energy Networks Customer Engagement Group for business planning. Her research contributes to policy: she served as a commissioner for the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland; and has advised Scottish Government on Fuel Poverty, Low Carbon Infrastructure and the Climate Change Plan. She is a member of UK Government BEIS research evaluation group, and Adviser to the UKRI Industrial Strategy Challenge Prospering from the Energy Revolution. She chaired the UK Committee on Climate Change 2016 Advisory Group on Energy Efficiency and Heat. She was a Non-Executive Director, and Sustainability Lead, NHS Health Scotland 2003-11 and a founder member of NHS Scotland Public Health and Sustainability Network.

Tweet link opens new window Tweet