The Government’s new green watchdog should be given the power to determine whether future farming budgets are high enough to deliver desired environmental outcomes, a leading ecological body has said.
Sally Haynes, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management, warned the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) would be ineffectual if it was unable to scrutinise the environment budgets of all public bodies.
Speaking at a Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum conference in London last week (February 6), Ms Haynes hit out at the Government’s failure to match its green rhetoric with action, pointing out cash-strapped local authorities and conservation bodies are already struggling to meet their statutory environmental duties.
“The OEP should have a role in ensuring the environmental ambition set out in the [Environment] Bill is properly resourced across all stakeholders,” she said.
“While that certainly includes the public sector and the statutory agencies and local authorities, I think it needs to be looking at whether Government is investing enough money across the piece, and that does include the money which is going to go into the Environmental Land Management Scheme.
“If we are going to achieve our ambition, we need to be spending more on the environment. It cannot just be done on the cheap. It will not work.”
Defra’s OEP policy team leader Jon Taylor, who was also speaking at the event, said there would be nothing to stop the OEP commenting on anything which was hampering the delivery of environmental improvements, including low levels of public funding.
But others warned the limited capacity of the new body – it is estimated the OEP will have between 60 and 120 staff, compared to 800 at the National Audit Office – would restrict its ability to take on additional work outside of its statutory duties.
Further concerns were also raised about whether the OEP would be willing to criticise Government spending decisions given its own budget will be Defra-funded and board members appointed by the Secretary of State.
Ministers intend to have the new body up and running by the end of the current transition period, on 1 January 2021.