Treasury criticised over environmental budgets

20th July 2016


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  • Public sector ,
  • Central government ,
  • Politics & Economics ,
  • England

Author

Morag Hart

The Treasury did not make the most of the opportunity to encourage government departments to work together on environmental issues when finalising the 2015 spending review, according to an independent assessment.

The findings come from the National Audit Office (NAO), which had been asked by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) to provide an overview of government policy on adapting to climate change, and the role of the Treasury in relation to sustainable development and environmental protection.

Spending reviews give departments the scope to put forward information on environmental risks, impacts and obligations in their bids for funds, and, as part of the 2015 process, the Treasury asked Defra, Decc (now BEIS) and the DfT to provide a summary of the impact of their bids on national carbon targets. It also advised departments to consider climate change, energy, fuel poverty and air quality legislation when finalising their bids.

The ONS found that Defra performed particularly well. It reviewed 10 of 112 capital bids by Defra and found that environmental benefits were highlighted and a range of environmental impacts were included in calculations of the cost–benefit case, although some tangential environmental impacts were not flagged in the bid summaries.

The Treasury requested and received ‘carbon returns’ from departments with the most material impacts on emissions to assess the cumulative impact on carbon budgets. Coordinated bids relating to air quality and for projects intended to address carbon reduction, such as the Office for Low Emission Vehicles and the International Climate Fund, were more common in 2015 than in 2010.

However, the Treasury did not make the most of the opportunity to encourage departments to work across government on environmental issues, the ONS found. ‘HM Treasury could have done more to establish strong incentives for collaboration on environmental matters. For example, by signalling to departments that it would review carbon reduction proposals as a package, and by engaging more extensively with cross-government groups involved in planning for carbon budgets to do so,’ it said.

The ONS also pointed out that developing a cross-government view of the impact of the spending review on biodiversity would have provided useful information on the cumulative impact of bids on habitats and wildlife preservation, and prompted greater collaboration between departments on such issues.

Overall there was clear improvement in the consideration of environmental issues across government compared to the 2010 spending review, with evidence that spending proposals drew on existing cross-government coordination, the ONS acknowledged.

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