22. 12. 2010

Progress on the 'Greenest Government Ever'

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Nearing the end of what has been a pretty grisly year from the perspective of ‘the standing of sustainable development in government’, I was rather looking forward to the prospect of an announcement from Caroline Spelman at Defra indicating what happens next. At the same time as axing the Sustainable Development Commission in July, Ministers committed themselves to ‘mainstreaming sustainable development across government’, which caused plenty of wry hilarity at the time.

Unfortunately, it now looks as if I will have to wait until the New Year to discover what’s on the cards.

But the signs are not encouraging. There was an insane moment ten days or so ago when Defra came up with an apparently serious proposal to locate SD within the Cabinet’s Committee structure under the Reducing Regulation Sub-Committee – on the grounds that it’s this Committee that is responsible for Policy Impact Appraisal! There’s a quirky logic there (wouldn’t it be great if every emerging policy was properly assessed in terms of its implications for sustainable development!), but it speaks volumes that senior officials in Defra could seriously suppose that this was the best bet available to them.

The good news is that Oliver Letwin (Minister for Policy Coordination in the Cabinet Office) is now intent on rescuing Defra from its fumbling mediocrity. Oliver Letwin ‘gets’ SD. Indeed, apart from Chris Huhne, he may be the only Senior Minister in the Coalition Government who does. He understands that it’s all about truly integrated perspectives across government (and across society), and that it’s all about promoting long-term thinking within the maelstrom of short-term fire-fighting.

But even Oliver Letwin will struggle in terms of what to do about the scrutiny function that the Sustainable Development Commission took on back in 2006. Rigorously appraising the performance of Whitehall Departments, Government as a whole, and the rest of the public sector, is a critical part of the ‘SD architecture’ that the Labour Government put in place – and for which the UK was widely admired in international circles.
Current thinking is to dump this scrutiny function on the Environmental Audit Committee. This may well be the least worst option, but the idea that the EAC is an adequately independent, adequately competent, and adequately resourced body to do the job authoritatively is patently ridiculous.

The EAC is made up of parliamentarians, all of whom, by definition, have seriously vested interests, and many of whom have little if any working knowledge of the broader sustainable development agenda.

I’m somewhat amazed that Joan Walley (the EAC’s new Chair) has allowed Government Ministers to direct her in this regard. Parliamentary Committees are not creatures of the Exectutive. As a quid pro quo, I hope that she has negotiated a brilliant deal on resourcing for the EAC, so that the National Audit Office (which provides the staffing for the EAC) commits enough staff and time to allow the EAC to function with efficiency if not (as yet) with much authority.

And the truth of it is that without that level of independence and authority, key stakeholders will treat the EAC’s scrutiny reports as little more than benign paper-shuffling between different bits of the same system.

So where does that leave us on the great ‘Greenest Government Ever’ claim? Let’s wait and see until the announcements next year. But with thousands of civil servants in Defra, The Environment Agency, Natural England, The Forestry Commission and the rest of the Defra ‘family’ now facing redundancy, it’s a claim that sounds sadder and sadder by the day.

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20. 03. 2011

I wish to make it clear that I want the cheapest, reliable energy sources - 'greenest' and 'safest' are of no interest whatsoever.

Recycling is a massive job-creation scheme, no more, no less.

Burning domestic refuse in CHP stations makes a great deal of sense, but MIMBY-ism means siting them near to cities and towns is all but impossible.

'Green' is nothing less than an excuse to raise prices (a tax on society, in effect) to achieve the political aims of those whose agenda has no merit and less scientific validity.

Apart from aluminium, domestic refuse recycling has no merit that the use of multi-fuel stoves and compost bins (and a dog) would not solve.

The rest of the 'Green' agenda is claptrap and simply costs the UK consumers money and jobs.

I grow many of my own vegetables, and have yet to put anything out in a domestic bin over the last 5 years - not one single item - so the scale of waste is massive in most homes.

THAT is a sane agenda, just as energy-saving TO SAVE MONEY is sane - not for any airy-fairy 'planet-saving' hogwash.

03. 10. 2012
Bill Coop

Its a pity Mr Letwin doesn't understand that with regard to Dorset housing in particular, the councillor/freemason bedrock of the local government structure makes a mockery of sustainable anything.

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