Environmental Protection UK recently announced that it would stop being fully funded in March. Its chief executive James Grugeon explains how government funding cuts forced the difficult decision to make staff redundant but says he hopes to continue the organisation’s work on a voluntary basis
Last week, I spoke at what could be – but I hope is not – the last national conference organised by Environmental Protection UK (EPUK). The theme of Environment 2011 was ‘Adapting to change through localism’, which has a special, if unintentional, meaning for EPUK and our members.
We are the UK’s oldest environmental charity, established as the Coal Smoke Abatement Society in 1898 and responsible for ground-breaking legislation such as the original 1956 Clean Air Act. So we have been pretty adept at adapting to change as we played our part in developing sensible regulation put in place by successive governments of different political hues to protect our environment and promote healthier local communities.
This was not, overall, a good green Budget. The chancellor’s announcement on the Green Investment Bank attracted ire, because it will not be able to borrow significantly until 2015 at the earliest.
But what he said about the GIB was as good as could be hoped for, given the government’s unshakeable deficit-cutting priority. If all goes according to plan, the bank will be up and running in 2012 and be able to line up £18bn to back projects by 2015. (more…)
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.
Be careful what you wish for. When the Government Economic Service agreed to co-host an exploratory meeting with the soon-to-be-disbanded Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) we were delighted. It had all the hallmarks of a meaningful engagement with a key government service. The aim of the exercise (or so we thought at the time) was to improve guidance on sustainable development in the government’s ‘green book’: the economic bible for assessing the merits of public sector investment projects.
In the Commission we saw it as the first step in a succession of reviews: first we would have the ‘green book’, then the ‘blue book’ – the guidance on national economic accounts (including GDP) – and finally the ‘pink book’ – the national guidance on investments and assets accounting (including the rapidly rising public debt). (more…)