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We need more than a nudge

Life can be pulled by goals just as surely as it can be pushed by drives.

Good Lord, I thought to myself this morning, when a press release landed in my inbox this morning mentioning the Government’s Behavioural Insights Team (apparently known as the ‘nudge unit’, whatever the hell that means).

Having checked with the calendar that it was not a) April Fools Day or b) 1984, I started to read it. Rather wish I hadn’t. Not only was it rather tortuously written, but the implications of it struck me as worrying.

In fact, I’ve been mithering over it all day and have come to the conclusion that no matter what that nice Greg Barker MP might have said about “voices such as the Builders Merchants’ Federation are essential in helping us to design the Green Deal” , the rest of the DECC might not agree.

The news this morning that the ridiculously named nudge unit is to monitor a series of trials on how the Green Deal could be made to mean more to householders takes on a rather more sinister edge for the industry when you realise that the trials are being conducted by B&Q and a raft of energy companies.

B&Q’s trial is apparently going to focus on helping people to clear out their lofts so that they can put in lots of lovely insulation where the boxes of clutter used to be.

The trial will test the theory that it is simply the horror of having to clear out all the junk oneself which is stopping people from properly insulating their lofts. So B&Q and Sutton Council will clear it all out for you and then donate the junk to charity. Or sell it at the local bootfair – though that might just be my natural cynicism shining through.

Another trial, this time with Homebase, is going to look at offering people immediate rewards such as a month’s council tax holiday to see if that will make them more or less likely to invest in energy saving measures.

Then there’s a third trial, with a couple of energy companies, which will use ‘behavioural feedback’ (yes, really) to see if that has any benefit. I assume that means ‘we’ll tell you what you are doing wrong in terms of using energy unwisely and see if it makes you change your ways’.

What concerns me is the way that none of these trials have gone anywhere near the people whom one would assume would be involved – the local builders and builders merchant branches.

Now it may just be that it would be too complex and complicated to set up trials with these sectors as they are, however, it could also mean that the Government simply isn’t bothered about who delivers the Green Deal and will plump for the easy option. Invariably, that will be the option forced upon them by those with the budget and the clout to shout loudest.

The fact that B&Q have now bought one of the largest suppliers of energy performance certificates (EPC), National Energy Services shows that they understand this.

The BMF and the FMB are working hard behind the scenes, on behalf of their respective sectors, to ensure that merchants and independent tradesmen get a look-in on what could be a lucrative retro-fit market. Let’s hope they are listened to by those who hold the reins.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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