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The Thin Green Line: Public Sector Failures on Climate Aims Revealed

Despite the Government push towards electric vehicles for all UK car owners, 98% of police vehicles are currently not ultra low-emission

A police car in the UK. Photo: bojangles/Alamy

The Thin Green LinePublic Sector Failures on Climate Aims Revealed

Despite the Government push towards electric vehicles for all UK car owners, 98% of police vehicles are not ultra low-emission

Under 2% of UK police vehicles are ultra-low emission, meaning that they are either hybrid or electric, the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal.

The lack of investment so far in green infrastructure in public services, such as the police, raises questions about how easily the Government will achieve its net zero carbon plans. 

Earlier this year, the Government pledged to place a ban on all new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030. The climate crisis was high on the agenda during the Conservative Party Conference, not least with the global COP26 climate summit – to be held in Glasgow – only weeks away. 

But analysis of Freedom of Information requests reveal the gap between the Government’s green promises and the challenges ahead to meet these targets in reality.

While much of the focus has been on members of the public making individual changes in order to hit net zero, less has been said about the need for the public sector to take steps to reduce its carbon footprint. 

Now, in the first of a series of investigations into the public sector and the climate crisis, the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal that electric and hybrid vehicles account for only 1.86% of police forces’ fleets across the UK. 

Cop Cars and COP26

At least 14 police forces have no electric vehicles at all, while all 55 vehicles in the Ministry of Defence Police’s fleet are diesel with no electric or hybrid vehicles. 

Of the 40 forces analysed which do have some ultra-low emission vehicles, Lancashire Constabulary (0.11%), Suffolk Constabulary (0.14%), West Yorkshire Police (0.23%), Thames Valley Police (0.25%) and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (0.04%) have the lowest numbers. Hybrid and electric vehicles make up less than 0.5% of each fleet – of the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s 2,638 vehicles only one was hybrid. 

Some of the largest police car fleets have notably low petrol/diesel car to electric vehicles ratios.

Avon and Somerset, with a fleet of 867, has only eight electric vehicles and zero hybrid vehicles. Devon and Cornwall, which covers a vast area of the UK, has 1,105 vehicles of which only eight were hybrid and four were electric. Thames Valley Police, with a fleet of 1,178 had three hybrid and zero electric vehicles. 

Across the four nations of the UK, Police Scotland has 1,530 vehicles of which 11 are hybrid and two are electric. South Wales Police had five hybrid vehicles in a fleet of 885, although Dyfed-Powys had a higher proportion: 11 electric and 16 hybrid out of 394 vehicles. North Wales had six electric and five hybrid out of a fleet of 582. 

There are some positive moves towards change, however. The Metropolitan Police has 800 electric vehicles – out of a fleet of nearly 5,000 doing 47 million miles every year. This data was excluded from the Freedom of Information request. 

The consultancy Arcadis, which is working with the Met to manage a transition towards 100% by 2030, estimates that even transitioning those 800 vehicles to ultra-low emission vehicles will result in a 9% reduction in CO2 emissions across the entire fleet.  

Gloucestershire Constabulary has 84 electric vehicles out of a fleet of 438, meaning that nearly one-fifth of its fleet is now electric. 

But, while these are positive steps, the gap between electric and petrol or diesel still looms large.

Transport is the UK’s biggest polluter, accounting for nearly 30% of carbon dioxide emissions in 2020. Road vehicles are responsible for the majority of these. In his first speech as Prime Minister in the House of Commons, Boris Johnson promised that the UK “will be the home of electric vehicles”.

In response to the findings, a Home Office spokesperson told Byline Times that electric vehicle provision was an issue for individual police forces and that the Government has “strict legislation about not selling petrol cars by 2030”.

The Freedom of Information data excluded covert vehicles. 

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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