'Disappointment' as axe falls on sustainability watchdog

On the day it announced it had saved up to £70 million a year for the previous Government the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) had its funding axed.

Secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, Caroline Spelman, said today (July 22) 'times have changed' as she slashed funding and closed arm's length bodies.

The SDC claims green initiatives had saved the previous Government £60 to70 million every year.

And it called for the Coalition Government to 'step up' its green ambitions in order to benefit from further efficiency savings.

In Becoming the 'Greenest Government Ever': achieving sustainability in operations and procurement, the SDC claims the £70 million savings are 'only the tip of the iceberg.'

In states analysis of progress made under the previous Government suggests that, despite the slow pace of change, improvements in energy and water consumption, waste, recycling and road transport performance are likely to add up to £300 to 350 million over the next five years, even if no further progress is made.

However, the report was ignored by Ms Spelman who also abolished the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, the Agricultural Wages Board, the fifteen Agricultural Wages Committees, the sixteen Agricultural Dwelling House Advisory Committees, the Committee on Agricultural Valuation, the Inland Waterways Advisory Council and the Commons Commissioners.

She said: "Times have changed since many of these bodies were set up and much of what they do is now everyday Government business.

"We will continue to liaise closely with the Sustainable Development Commission's partners and will work with business, civil society, local communities, universities and internationally, to help deliver sustainable development together.
"The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee will provide powerful democratic scrutiny of Government's work in this area."

Chair of the SDC said he was 'disappointed' at Defra's announcement and paid tribute to ten years of putting sustainability on the political map.

He said: "We are deeply disappointed the Government has announced its intention to withdraw its funding.

"Our work has delivered efficiency savings totalling many times what the organisation has cost the Government, and contributed towards much greater sustainability in Government - both in the way it runs itself, and the decisions it makes about our wellbeing and our future.

"The passion and commitment of our commissioners and staff has kept the SDC at the forefront of sustainable thinking.

"We await with interest the details of how a degree of cross-government independent scrutiny is to be achieved."

Welsh Assembly Government Minister for environment, Jane Davidson, also criticised the decision.

She said: "The Assembly Government is one of three administrations in the world which is underpinned by a legal duty relating to sustainable development. Sustainable development is, and will remain, at the heart of this administration.

"I am therefore disappointed at the announcement that has been made about the future of the Sustainable Development Commission, our independent adviser on sustainable development.

"We have always been a strong supporter of the Sustainable Development Commission and it has been invaluable in working with us to deliver sustainable development in line with the Assembly Government's duty.

"There will be continuing dialogue between the UK Government and the Assembly Government on this issue."

Luke Walsh


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