Small business responds to audit committee's claims of pollution ignorance

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has called for the government to improve communication on environmental obligations to lift the burden on small businesses.

The comments come after last week's report by the Environmental Audit Committee into corporate environmental crime (see related story). It found that small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are responsible for up to 80% of all pollution incidents and more than 60% of all industrial waste produced in England and Wales.

Despite these high figures, the report said that 70-75% of SMEs were unaware of their environmental obligations.

Nyree Connell, policy development officer for the FSB told edie news that the organisation had lobbied hard for the government to improve communication as, "fundamentally, it is low awareness levels that cause small businesses to breach legislation".

"Most FSB members rarely have the specialist expertise or resources to dedicate to environmental legislation. They perceive the enforcement and application of legislation as arbitrary and inconsistent and are of the view that many environmental laws do not benefit the environment and view environmental taxes as 'stealth' taxes," Ms Connell said.

She added that, while there were organisations like NetRegs out there to offer advice, they were not sufficiently extensive and more needed to be done by government itself. Last year, FSB published its 'Lifting the Barriers to Growth 2004' survey, in which 41% of respondents said that clearer and more timely information about government requirements would improve environmental compliance.

In this, the FSB is in tune with the EAC report itself which found that: "communication of policy, new legislation and regulation was patchy. Of particular concern was the quality and timeliness of guidance being produced by the government, most notably with regard to the adoption and implementation of EU directives."

It highlighted the EU Landfill Directive as a particular problem. The government had five years warning of the Directive, but businesses were still waiting for guidance three months before the deadline for implementation.

"This is wholly unacceptable and the government needs to act quickly to address this problem if it is to avoid exacerbating the damage caused to the environment by businesses acting in ignorance," the EAC report stated.

The FSB have made a submission to the EAC on this issue and Ms Connell said that the group would continue to call on government to improve education and communication strategies in this area.

By David Hopkins



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