EAC calls on Defra to hasten 25-year plan publication
The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Treasury have come under renewed fire from the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) for failing to establish their environmental and sustainability priorities.
In a letter to Environment Minister Andrea Leadsom, EAC Chair Mary Creagh MP this week criticised the ‘continuing’ delay to the government’s 25-year plan for the environment, while the EAC has also expressed its disappointment in the Treasury’s lack of clarification on its sustainability goals following an EAC report last year.
The 25-year plan has been the fall-back for representatives of the government at several public inquiries over the past year, with Leadsom and Resource Minister Therese Coffey in particular stating that the forthcoming plan would give a clear picture of the government’s intentions and strategy regarding the environment.
Following industry disappointment that a five-year plan for the environment published at the beginning of last year gave no mention to waste, Defra said in February 2016 that a framework for the ‘comprehensive’ and ‘ambitious’ plan would be published last spring, with the full document released before the end of the year. However, there has not yet been any indication of what the plan will include or when it will eventually be published.
The EAC, Parliament’s green watchdog, acts to scrutinise the contribution of the government’s policies and actions towards ‘environmental protection and sustainable development’.
The department went through a period of upheaval in the summer when Theresa May was appointed Prime Minister and reshuffled a large number of governmental positions, which included bringing Coffey and Leadsom to the department.
This disruption followed the result of the EU referendum, which Coffey last year said had taken priority over the plan, as Defra, which is undergoing annual budget cuts, focused resources on facilitating the transition from EU membership. It is estimated that some 800 pieces of environmental EU legislation will have to be transposed into UK law as part of the move.
Creagh acknowledged these pressures but said that the government’s environmental outlook needs to be laid out ahead of negotiations: ‘I recognise the pressures your Department faces as a result of preparations for leaving the European Union and existing budget cuts.
‘Nonetheless, my committee recommended that the framework for the plan should be published and consulted on before Article 50 is triggered, so as to inform the government’s negotiating position. This seems unlikely, raising the prospect of the government entering crucial and time-limited negotiations with the EU without an agreed plan.’
Creagh finished by asking Leadsom to confirm when Defra intends to publish the framework and final plan.
Treasury response to sustainability report ‘deeply disappointing’
As well as action on the 25-year plan, the EAC has today (3 March) stated that it is ‘unsatisfied’ with the government’s response to its ‘Sustainability and HM Treasury’ report, which found last November that actions enacted by the Treasury were ‘riding roughshod’ over the environmental schemes of other governmental departments, putting short-term priorities over long-term sustainability and potentially increasing costs to the economy in the future, and harming investor confidence.
The report urged the Treasury to ‘green-check’ all of its future decisions like ‘changing and cancelling long-established environmental policies and projects at short notice with little or no consultation with relevant businesses and industries’.
However, the EAC has criticised the Treasury’s response to the report, saying that it has not has not responded to its individual recommendations or addressed key overarching points made in the report and has not made clear how it will do anything different in future as a result of the inquiry.
Creagh commented: “The Treasury is one of the most powerful departments in government and its approach to sustainability can have a huge impact. Our report found that the Treasury’s current approach required improvement and made recommendations about how this could be done.”
“In the Treasury’s response, it is not clear whether it has considered our recommendations or whether it will do anything different as a result. This is deeply disappointing given that our report found the Treasury’s performance is far from outstanding.
“The Chancellor must try harder in next week’s Budget to show he is taking action to secure sustainable economic growth which stimulates new, innovative environmental industries and jobs.”
Creagh was this week named as this year’s winner of Resource’s Hot 100 poll to find the biggest movers and shakers in the waste and resources industry.
Creagh’s win reflected her work leading the EAC in inquiries regarding the impact of microplastics on the environment (from which a ban is likely to have resulted), the sale of the Green Investment Bank, the Treasury’s role regarding sustainability and the future of environmental safeguards after Brexit.
The EAC’s report on the government’s response to the Treasury and Sustainability inquiry can be read on the committee’s website.