The committee notes that although the Government awarded itself a score of 10 out of 15 (66.7%) for its environmental headline indicators in March this year (see related story), this is somewhat selective. The score could just as easily have been only two out of seven – a mere 28.6% – showing progress, with the rest being unsatisfactory to some degree.

The Committee notes that there needs to be third party validation of the Governments ‘traffic light’ indicator assessments in order to neutralise unfounded claims of partiality, which could undermine their credibility. A red traffic light is used to indicate significant change in the wrong direction; amber shows no significant change, and green indicates a significant change in the right direction.

The Government must also ensure that appropriate data is collected. “Given that the 15 headline indicators were established in 1999, we are surprised and disappointed that there is still insufficient data in some areas to provide a complete picture,” says a Committee statement. The Committee also recommends that the Government clarify how it is seeking to achieve a uniform geographic basis across all the headline indicators.

“The Quality of Life Barometer is an excellent communication tool which can help us all to judge the Government’s performance in key areas of our lives and we welcome this assessment,” said Chairman of the Committee John Horam MP. “However, absences of data in critical areas and weaknesses in presentation not only exaggerate progress but threaten to undermine the barometer’s impact and credibility. We believe that the system would be more robust if it were subject to third party review.”

With regard to specific indicators, there is insufficient data on waste. The ‘green light’ for the transport indicator is confusing in that it should be used to indicate a decrease in vehicle miles, but is instead used to indicate a slower rate of growth (see related story). The climate change indicator is also confusing, with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA’s) latest data showing that the decrease in greenhouse gases has levelled off, although carbon dioxide emissions actually increased in both 2000 and 2001.

“We are, however, encouraged to see that DEFRA has already amended the barometer since we took evidence from Mr Meacher and it now incorporates a number of changes which the Committee proposed to the Minister when he appeared before us,” said Horam.

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