In both of her recent letters to the Times Emma Howard Boyd about the cut to the funding of the Environment Agency by over 50% since 2010. This theme is being picked up by various people. The Times has lead on how this has lead to a reduction in inspections by Food Inspectors and a decline in prosecutions for wildlife crime. Such articles are not new. In December 2018 Unearthed, the Greenpeace source published a long article (see below), now Unchecked.uk have taken up this theme with a new briefing paper.
Unchecked campaign launches with stark warning that funding for environmental enforcement agencies has been halved since 2010
Business Green – James Murray
‘The government may have repeatedly stressed that it remains committed to ‘world-class’ environmental standards, but the agencies tasked with overseeing and enforcing those standards have seen their funding halved inside a decade. That is the stark reality highlighted by a new campaign that launched yesterday under the banner Unchecked.uk with backing from some of the UK’s largest environmental NGOs.
The campaign is backed by the The Ecology Trust and has secured support from 20 green civil society and professional groups, including the RSPB, Friends of the Earth, the New Economics Foundation, Green Alliance, National Consumer Federation, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, and the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment.
The new group’s stated aim is to work with UK civil society organisations to “make the case for proper investment in the public bodies that keep us safe”. It is now working to map “the causes and consequences of weak enforcement” and carry out public attitudes research around regulation and enforcement.
To mark the launch of the new campaign the group yesterday released a briefing paper detailing the scale of the “enforcement gap”. It revealed that from 2009/10 to 2016 real terms funding for the environmental and social protection work of 10 key national regulators fell on average by 50 per cent. Over the same period the total number of full-time staff working at these regulators fell by 30 per cent, while spending by Local Authorities and fire authorities in England on key services that protect the health and wellbeing of citizens and the environment fell by an average of 35 per cent.
Natural England and the Environment Agency were amongst the worst affected bodies, experiencing budget cuts of over 60 per cent over the nine year period. The study also suggests the funding cuts have filtered through into reduced enforcement activity. For example, the number of Environment Agency prosecutions has fallen by around 80 per cent over the period while levels of food testing, water pollution sampling, and illegal waste prosecutions have all fallen sharply. In a letter to The Times the group and its supporters warned that “the country is asking local authorities and key regulators, including the Food Standards Agency, the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and others, to do their work with on average 50 per cent less funding than 10 years ago”.
“The steep reduction in inspections and monitoring of regulated business in recent years risks undermining the achievement of public policy objectives, and the shift towards industry self-reporting leaves the regulatory system vulnerable to abuse,” it added.
Martin Baxter, chief policy advisor at IEMA, said there were compelling reasons for the business community to back more effective enforcement of environmental rules.
“We need a properly funded regulator to underpin our vital environmental protections,” he said. “Businesses that effectively manage compliance with environmental regulations shouldn’t be undercut by those who flout the rules.”
The new campaign echoes long-standing warnings from the wider green business and NGO community that the UK risks seeing its environmental governance frameworks watered down post-Brexit.
The government has repeatedly insisted it will not dilute current standards and in a letter to EU Council President Donald Tusk this week Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that while the UK was seeking to secure the freedom to diverge from EU rules it remained committed to maintaining “world-class” environmental standards.
But campaign and business groups have repeatedly warned that the government’s current proposed Environment Act does leave the door open for a watering down of environmental standards in the future and could exacerbate a practical ‘governance gap’ that has already been established through years of budget cuts.
“The analysis we are publishing today is alarming, and is cause for serious national concern,” said Emma Rose of Unchecked.uk. “With important regulators operating with on average 50 per cent less funding than 10 years ago, there is a need for a closer look at the state of our public protection infrastructure.
“As a country we believe in fair play, common standards, and everyone playing by the same rules – but the truth is, the people we rely on to enforce those rules are being hamstrung. Today, we have launched Unchecked.uk to show that vital protections can no longer be taken for granted.”
In response to the report, a Defra spokesperson said: “Our ground-breaking 25 Year Environment Plan sets ambitious goals for nature and biodiversity in England to improve our precious environment. We are committed to working with independent regulators and ensuring they have the resources to protect and enhance our natural environment for future generations.”
Inspections and pollution tests drop as Environment Agency sheds thousands of staff
Unearthed Greenpeace 8/12/2018 Conservation experts say cutbacks have hampered efforts to revive the country’s dirty rivers and depleted fish stocks
The Environment Agency has lost thousands of staff in the last few years. The number of site inspections by England’s environmental regulator has fallen by more than a third over the past four years, an Unearthed analysis has found.
Conservation experts told Unearthed the cutbacks – which have come at a time of rapid staffing cuts at the Environment Agency (EA) – had hampered efforts to revive the country’s dirty rivers and depleted fish stocks.
The EA has shed the equivalent of more than 2,500 full time jobs (20% of its workforce) since 2013. In a statement, minister for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) George Eustice said nearly 1,000 EA staff – all of which were in corporate services such as finance, HR and IT – have been transferred to the department since July 2016.
Separately, earlier this month Defra revealed it had poached staff from the EA to help handle the Brexit workload.
Unearthed analysis of official statistics shows that, over the same time period, the agency has sharply scaled back on key duties, including inspections of permitted industrial sites and farms, water pollution sampling, and legal actions against polluters.
Responding to Unearthed’s findings, the EA argued that over the past year it had reduced serious pollution incidents to their lowest level since 2011.
However, frontline environmental organisations claim the agency’s reduced capacity means its staff will now usually only be able to investigate the most severe pollution incidents. Click here to read more