George Osborne’s Spending Review, just announced in Parliament with the full document available online here, makes provision for a new Green Investment Bank (GIB). This is a vital piece of policy to take forward the low-carbon transition. But the announcements look to be too little, too late.
The Government has pledged just £1bn of direct public funds for the GIB – despite a previously anticipated figure of £2bn – and falling far short of the £4-6bn that analysts and campaigners had been calling for. Read more
Yesterday evening Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander was photographed reading an internal Treasury briefing on Spending Review announcements. When enlarged, the paparazzi shot contained some revelations: most of the coverage has focused on the Government”s acknowledgement that budget cuts could see the loss of 500,000 public sector jobs. But few have picked up that the other page of the briefing discussed environment spending.
Information design extraordinaire David McCandless has produced a new bubble graphic looking at Government spending on much-maligned quangos. As with the Guardian”s colourful maps of total Government spending, you”ll have to squint to find the bits dedicated to tackling climate change.
In fact, McCandless” beautiful infographic shows only two agencies dedicated to cutting emissions – the Carbon Trust and the Energy Savings Trust. That”s because most of DECC”s agencies receive only tiny amounts of funding – and bodies with budgets less than £25m are excluded from the diagram. Much online casino climate spending is, in McCandless” diagram, invisible to the naked eye. Read more
Cutting by 40%… but these campaigners wanted to cut emissions, not spending
I’m at the Labour party conference in Manchester this week, doing the rounds of the climate fringe events and asking whether ‘Red Ed’ will rediscover his previous persona as ‘Green Ed’. Expect a number of posts reporting back over the next few days.
First up, the future of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) itself. This emerged as a key concern at this morning’s Fabians discussion on green jobs, with speakers Emily Thornberry MP (Shadow Energy & Climate team), Michael Jacobs (former environment advisor to Gordon Brown), Alan Whitehead MP, and Tony Hawkhead (CEO of environmental charity Groundwork).
The panel expressed great disquiet about the impact of the looming spending cuts on DECC. The department’s current budget is some £3.2bn; cutting its spend by 40% – as the Treasury asked all departments to model earlier this year – would leave it with just £1.92bn to spearhead the low-carbon transition. But it was pointed out that £1.7bn of DECC’s existing budget is spent on nuclear clean-up: liabilities that have to be taken care of and that Government can hardly divest themselves of. Assuming DECC would still be saddled with this responsibility, a 40% budget cut would leave the department with a paltry £220m to support renewables, energy efficiency, low-carbon cars and all the rest. DECC would effectively cease to function as a meaningful department – and it’s understood that DECC officials have said as much to the Treasury.
Green wood is not meant to burn well. But it appears that the Government is stoking its ‘bonfire of the quangos’ with over 15 environmental bodies, and considering the abolition of many more, blowing another hole in its claim to be ‘the greenest government ever’. At the same time, the confirmed abolition of the Regional Development Agencies will lead to £40m being cut from low-carbon investment programmes.
In Cabinet Office papers leaked to the Telegraph yesterday, it was revealed that 177 non-departmental public bodies (‘quangos’) are set to be abolished, with a further 94 currently under review. Examination of the list reveals that environmental regulatory and advisory bodies constitute a significant proportion of those being culled – despite only saving an estimated £6.75m in public spending, and with many of the bodies operating at no cost to the public purse.
Amongst the bodies for the chop include the Renewables Advisory Board – an expert panel drawn from industry that advises on renewable energy policy; the Commission for Integrated Transport, which researches how to reduce transport emissions and congestion; and the Regional Development Agencies, responsible for £40m of low-carbon research & development over the past financial year, according to recent analysis by the Committee on Climate Change.
Incredibly, bodies as central to the Government climate programme as the Carbon Trust and the Forestry Commission are not yet off the ‘endangered list’ of “Bodies still under review”.
The privatisation of the Forestry Commission has been mootedbefore, but what this would mean in terms of retaining a national forest stock is unknown. It is possible that the Carbon Trust is being eyed up for assimilation into the proposed Green Investment Bank – as suggested by the Green Investment Bank Commission earlier this year – but simply moving funds around, rather than earmarking new money, will be insufficient to stimulate private sector green investment.
Nor is this the last of it. As the Telegraph reports, “Other bodies that are likely to survive but face significant budget cuts are the Environment Agency, the Energy Savings Trust and the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group.” The revelations follow hot on the heels of the announced abolition of the Sustainable Development Commission, and recent concerns that the promised £60m Ports Fund – for developing ports into manufacturing hubs for wind turbines – is under threat.
The cull of public bodies follows a worryingly ideological pattern. It is no secret that the hard-right Taxpayers’ Alliance has been lobbying for years to squash environmental regulation and spending. As I highlighted in July, Caroline Spelman’s decision to abolish the Sustainable Development Commission had been presaged with repeated lobbying by the Taxpayers’ Alliance, who called it “…a Government-sponsored campaign for an increase in green and environmentally aware policy”. The TPA’s Policy Director Matthew Sinclair boasted on Twitter that it was a ‘#tpapolicywin’. In a blog piece posted yesterday, the TPA revealed its desire to see even more green government bodies swept away, stating: “Whilst the news is initially encouraging… the Telegraph also lists a number of bodies still under review. It names the Carbon Trust, The Advisory Council on Public Records and the Energy Savings Trust among others whose future is yet undecided. This shows that there are still lots more quangos that can be added to this growing bonfire.”
Others on the right are clearly rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of rolling back bodies that attempt – heaven forbid – to tackle global warming. Andrew Porter, the Telegraph’s political editor, wrote yesterday: “The abolition of the British Council would be welcomed by many… Critics have accused it of being hijacked and used to promote such causes as climate change.” Imagine!
The irony of such small-statist antagonism towards green quangos is how little they cost the taxpayer, despite their value in providing expert advice to government. By the admission of the Taxpayers’ Alliance themselves, the Renewables Advisory Board cost precisely £0 in 2008-9. The same was true of the Advisory Committee on Carbon Abatement Technologies, and many other similar bodies earmarked for abolition. Interestingly, six quangos that deal with nuclear liabilities appear to have escaped the guillotine, despite eating up over £800m of public funds – and despite the Coalition pledge to remove public subsidy for nuclear.
Nick Clegg claims he did not enter politics to cut public spending, and I am not interested in politics because of some bizarre wish to defend unelected civil servants. But taking an axe to dozens of environmental regulators and funds threatens to choke off the green economy just as it is coming to life. It is quite some irony that, on the same day as the Energy Secretary sings the praises of the nascent British offshore wind industry, the Renewables Advisory Board is abolished and £40m cut from low-carbon funding. If only it were a laughing matter.
The bonfire of the quangos is in full swing, and the Government has started to throw green wood onto the rising flames. Last Thursday, to barely a whisper in the press, not one but two environmental bodies were axed: the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), and the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP). No mere kindling, these pair: the SDC has existed for 10 years, whilst the RCEP was established by Ted Heath back in 1970. These branches of government have now been sacrificed in the name of cost-savings. Those few who spotted the announcement reacted with shock and exclamation. Green MP Caroline Lucas branded the move an “absolute disaster”. George Monbiot called it “irrational and counter-productive”. Jonathan Porritt, former chair of the SDC, bitterly lamented its axing as being “dogma-driven and brazenly cynical”. But the demise of the SDC is in many ways no surprise. One need only consult the auguries – that is to say, the small-statist think tanks whose position papers have prefigured much of the Coalition’s programme of spending cuts. Read more