Following the launch of the Hull Business Energy Efficiency Scheme in September – a council-led scheme with the aim of helping businesses become more energy efficient – we caught up with Programme Manager Phil Hall to hear more about it.

We spoke about his professional background, plans for the future, the opportunities for businesses through HBEES and other exciting, impactful projects that he has been involved in over the past few months… and years before!

Thanks so much for your time Phil. Let’s start by getting you to talk a little bit about your professional background?

I have 31 years experience in Economic Development where I’ve had a lot of varied experience within the sector. I was first brought into the mix off of the back of a Youth Training Scheme through Humberside County Council. Mark Jones appointed me who is now the Corporate Director for Regeneration with Deputy Chief Executive responsibilities at Hull City Council.

I’ve had a number of different roles in my time at the Council, starting in the general office and then working my way up through marketing, getting involved in a number of different initiatives. I was previously involved in sector initiatives as well, surrounding the food industry and going so far as establishing the former Hull Food Alliance and the Yorkshire and Humber Seafood Group. I’ve done a lot of work on Ports and Logistics, Renewable Energy and being a SFEDI accredited Business Advisor.

Then in 2018, I became the Programme Manager running the ICT for Growth and Finance for Growth Schemes that formed part of the #GrowMySME Programme. Primarily, this was to support businesses across the whole of the Humber.

That’s some pretty extensive experience within your chosen industry then, businesses are certainly in safe hands. So what about your current role at Hull City Council?

I am currently the Employment Inclusion Manager at Hull City Council, it’s another very varied role but there are two major elements that are within my remit.

Firstly, as the Programme Manager for the Hull Business Energy Efficiency Scheme – which I will go on to talk about in more detail later – and then also heading up the team looking after the employment and skills side of things. I oversee the Employment Hub Team based at Hull Central Library, whose main focus is to help people from disadvantaged backgrounds get back into employment.

Disadvantaged backgrounds can range from anything from being young, old, those suffering with mental health issues, disabilities, poorer backgrounds or have a lack of overall education due to their circumstances. This is a brand new team that was set up from the 1st November of this year, part-funded by DWP.

My team is also responsible for the Employment Hub and delivering locally the national Kickstart Scheme for job placements for young people within the City. We have registered 32 placement opportunities within the Council, and are aiming to achieve a huge 500 intermediary placements across the City. A lot of businesses in Hull are not in a position to take the 30 required placements by themselves. So as an intermediary, any company in Hull can come through our team to access the Kickstart Programme. This is a great scheme to help the younger people in our City get their foot in the door.

I feel so proud to be part of a scheme like this because every day, I get to see the positive impact the programme is having on people who may not have had it the easiest in the past. It truly helps people gain the skills they need to get into employment and knowing we are making an impact at such a crucial time means a lot to me. Not to mention the amazing team I have behind me! Without them, there’s no way the scheme would have the impact that it does, I couldn’t do it without them.

Being keen to do this interview is a way for me to try and raise awareness of the amount of support out there; whether that’s regarding, assistance into employment or even for businesses to reduce costs, especially if they have felt the effects of the pandemic on their own business outputs over recent months.

On the other hand, you’ve also got the businesses who want to get involved in certain schemes – namely HBEES – purely for the fact they want to be in an environmentally friendly and responsible organisation going forward.

You have been busy! And not just helping people, but on an even grander scale, businesses too. So can you tell us a bit more about the Hull Business Energy Efficiency Scheme?

HBEES is a three year project and is part funded by the 2014-2020 European Regional Development Fund Programme (ERDF). The Hull Business Energy Efficiency Scheme comes under Priority Four of the Programme which is aimed at supporting SME businesses in reducing greenhouse gas emissions; our aim is to have a huge positive environmental impact on our City and we have partnered up with NPS Humber as a delivery partner for this project.

The scheme is only eligible to SMEs, meaning that any business with less than 250 full-time employees, a turnover of less than 50 Million Euros or a balance sheet of less that 43 Million Euros, can apply for the scheme.

Unlike the other projects I’ve spoken about, HBEES is specifically for Hull SMEs and to further meet the criteria, they have to not be in any financial difficulties so that they can meet the initial demands set out by the scheme to begin the process.

Once we have checked their eligibility and the business has registered, we would then refer them to our delivery partners at NPS who will undertake the energy audits for the business. They will visit the business premises, look at how they’re operating, what heating, lighting and insulation they may have within the business, whether they’re using power generation methods already, as well as identifying their energy consumption and outputs.

From this, a thorough report is then generated which goes to the business and our programme team. This will detail any recommendations to the company as to what steps they can now take to become more energy efficient. By undertaking these development projects within the SME business premises, they can make a huge step into greatly cutting down their carbon emissions in order to reach the overall goal of Hull becoming carbon neutral City by 2030.

It is not an obligation for the businesses to go ahead with any of the recommendations provided, instead they will be encouraged to make their own decisions based on the information we provide. If they do go ahead with implementing any of our recommendations, then this is where they can apply for our grant scheme which covers up to 40% of the project costs, with a maximum of a £10,000 grant.

Will a business be prevented from accessing this grant for any reason?

Basically, if a business goes ahead with the energy assessment and receives their report, then as long as they go ahead with one of our recommendations, they are eligible for the grant. This is why we ensure at the very start that the interested businesses are eligible as part of the registration process.

For example, installing a LED lighting system in an older premises may cost £10,000. If the energy report has recommended this to the business as something that will help reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 3 tonnes per annum, then the business will be offered a 40% grant equating to £4,000 of the overall cost.

That’s really interesting. And I guess with the world coming to a bit of a standstill last year, it really gave businesses a chance to stop and think about their own environmental strategies going forward. It is known that with the reduction of traffic on the roads and heavy commuting, pollution levels have decreased over the past year.

As a result, businesses may want to think about ways they can continue to not only save the environment, but money, ready for when the world fully resumes – whenever that may be! 2021 could be the year a lot of businesses want to become more socially responsible and HBEES is the first step for a lot of businesses to be able to do this.

Oh yes, certainly for the smaller businesses as well. It means making such drastic changes to a business for the purpose of saving energy and cutting carbon emissions, is something that is not only desirable but affordable, particularly after a difficult economic year for most.

I want to emphasise the payback on some of these energy efficiency schemes now. Even without a grant, the costs have come down considerably. During our project development we had conversations with companies who had installed some of these initiatives and I remember one conversation vividly where they said that, especially for an old building, LED lighting systems can pay for itself in energy saving and efficiency in less than 2 years. That’s without a grant!

So actually, if you then achieve a 40% grant to cover the cost of undertaking that project – with HBEES – within about 15 months, the cost that you lay out initially has been paid back. What’s more, you then get the savings for years to come on top of that. It’s such an amazing way of ensuring the business is being true to the environment and true to itself, saving costs wherever possible and increasing profitability in the process. This fact has never been more important.

So why did you specifically choose SMEs?

Primarily, this is surrounding the priorities of the ERDF funding we have accessed, but also the need to concentrate on local, more independent businesses who may struggle to implement such projects without support.

Because of how accessible it is to Hull-based small to medium businesses, we’ve had an excellent response already. We only launched it in the last 2 months and have had 70+ enquiries, half of which are already registered and currently going through the process within the scheme.

19 energy audits have taken place and reports have been issued. And just before Christmas, we awarded our first two grants! These projects should be completed by sometime in January and so we will look forward to sharing those results with everyone later this year.

We’re hoping these early results will give prospective businesses a chance to set off on the right foot, giving them a great start to what initially is likely to be a challenging 2021, not only through saving money, but being proactive in their abilities to help reduce carbon emissions.

What are you hoping to achieve through HBEES? What would the best result be for the council with this scheme?

For starters, we have been commissioned to support 175 separate SME businesses. This support can be in the form of a minimum of 12 hours of advice or a grant in excess of £1,000.

Our long-term goal though is to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 750 tonnes per annum, which is to be delivered over a 3 year period. We will do this through replacing existing lighting with LED lighting systems, smart heating systems which use timers to save money, solar panels and personal sized turbines to generate your own energy. 

The biggest thing to mention here is that the companies that go through the process are going to be reducing their costs significantly. Within the current economic climate, any company that can reduce their costs will be in a better position for initial survival and more importantly, future growth.It will affect their profit margins and competitiveness, giving them an edge over their competition which results in an all-round better position within their industry.

On top of that, the fact the businesses are actively trying to become more environmentally friendly and the need for companies to have great social responsibility. HBEES addresses all of this and more!

Well it certainly sounds like you and your team have been extremely busy the past few months. You must be so proud and excited to see what the future holds.

Absolutely. I’ve spoken a lot about how excited I am to be involved in such brilliant projects, but it certainly isn’t all me. I can’t stress enough what an impact the team in place has had on each and every element of the projects we are working on at the moment.

Across both elements, the team that we have in place are doing a fantastic job. The amount of extra hours they are putting in voluntarily is commendable. They recognise – now more than ever – how vital it is to provide this kind of support across everything that we’ve been talking about. This project will also be central to the Council delivering on its commitment for the city to become Zero carbon.

I want to end this interview by saying a huge thank you to my team for their commitment and hard work over the past few months. I look forward to seeing what the future holds!