It’s good that the state of the environment might feature in the new measurement of national well-being promised by Prime Minister David Cameron today. (Only might, mind.)
But after six months, the wheels are now well and truly starting to fall off “the greenest government ever”.
The Commons Environmental Audit Committee’s enquiry into government policy on sustainable development post-SDC is exposing a shambles. No one minister or department seems to be in charge. Arguably it was a bit of a shambles under Labour, but at least we had the Sustainable Development Commission to point that out.
Then there is the Public Bodies Bill. It gives ministers a fast-track route to abolishing or drastically rearranging all the key public bodies concerned with environmental protection and climate change. These include the Committee on Climate Change which has important, clearly defined advisory and monitoring jobs to do. Less than three years after its birth, the CCC is widely recognised and supported. Does this blossoming toddler really deserve to be on the bill’s schedule 7 – the “we can do anything to you we want, but we don’t yet know what that is” list?
Then there is a decision, buried deep in the comprehensive spending review, to abolish the little fleet of emergency tugs. Their job was to rush to stop any stricken tanker from going on the rocks, following the Braer and Sea Empress oil spills in the 1990s. Government says that task should be left to private sector salvage firms. Abolition is a green gamble. If the government wins, it saves a few tens of millions of pounds. If it loses, many miles of coastline get slicked once again.
Plenty of good green intentions were specified in the coalition agreement. Hardly any have yet been fulfilled; not one of the big, difficult ones.
However, after six months, the government is beginning to pump out copious amounts of paper – like the first national infrastructure plan and the white paper on local economic growth. Look within and you find the important environmental content is usually vague; a matter of wishing to be green, but not yet setting out how it will be done.
If ministers and senior civil servants keep repeating that they intend this to be the greenest government ever, then they deserve severe judgment. It might be wiser for them to refocus on under-promising and over-achieving. Saying “we’d like to be the greenest government ever, but dealing with the deficit makes it really difficult” would be less stirring but more truthful.
Government, ENDS, our subscribers, everyone, can share one hope – that the words above are soon proved wrong. Because we need each successive government to be the greenest ever, for some time to come.
Fraudsters and conjurers are both skilled in the art of misdirection. They are masters at deceiving you into thinking that what you are seeing is something other than it actually is. Great thieves, like great conjurors, become very adept at doing the apparently impossible in plain view.
What has prompted these musings is the publication by the Cabinet Office of the Public Bodies Bill . In nearly 40 years of closely observing government I have never seen such an artful attempt to misdirect the public. Nor have I ever seen an effort to steal power from both Parliament and the public on such a colossal scale.