Thursday, October 21, 2010

CSR special: Environment

The Comprehensive Spending Review has a few cheap headlines in it for the environment - but sadly this amounts to a bit of window dressing amid some pretty hefty carnage. Before we start looking at the poor old Department of Energy and Climate Change let's look at transport first.

The Department of Transport is facing a 12.6% cut (an 1/8th of it's budget) and there will be a sharp rise in rail fares. That's right, in a country that already has massively overpriced rail tickets we're going to see above inflation rises.

Some infrastructure projects have been saved, like Crossrail and Thameslink, but Network Rail has promised savings by putting on hold plans for new carriages to ease overcrowding. So no new capacity, but even more expensive to travel. However High Speed Rail 2, a stonkingly expensive project that may not move anyone off the roads onto trains looks set to go ahead.

Fear not though because the road building continues with an extra lane of gridlock planned for the M25 and others. Don't worry if you're concerned about buses clogging up these precious new roads because the fuel tax subsidy to bus operators has been cut from 80% to 60% which will mean less services and higher fares - particularly for rural and less used routes.

I'm also told that even walking and cycling provision will be hit as this comes under the remit of local councils who are all facing their own massive funding crisis.

Department of Energy and Climate Change

The DECC budget will be reduced by 33% over the next four years which includes cuts in insulation subsidies, the renewable heat levy, subsidies to feed-in tarriffs and the Severn Barrage which is to go to the wall. Admittedly this was a controversial project that would have supplied a good deal of renewable energy at the cost of the local wildlife and habitats.

Between three and eight thousand jobs will be lost in the department out of a total of 30,000. Hundreds of nature reserves are likely to be sold off and grants to institutions like Kew Gardens and the Royal botanic Gardens are to be cut.

Half a billion is to be shaved off the explicit flood defences budget on top of the expectation that local councils will be cutting back on local flood prevention provision. There's also going to be cuts in animal disease prevention with the private sector being expected to take up much of the slack.

Both of these moves look quite dangerous to me, and a repeat of the foot and mouth disease outbreak a few years ago and/or new flooding like last year would cost the economy and the government dear. Yet another false economy.

However, there will be one billion for the experimental technology Carbon Capture and Storage and another billion for a 'Green Investment Bank' to help deliver new projects. However, the department has been particularly badly hit by the 'bonfire of the quangos' that were already funding projects and groups like the Carbon Trust and Energy Saving Trust will suffer so whether the GIB is a move forwards or not seems a little doubtful to me.

However, in the context of green job losses and budget cuts the occasional piece of good news is hardly earth shattering. Certainly this is a million miles away from the million green jobs policy of investment that we need, although what on Earth the 'Green Deal' turns out to be is anyone's guess.

The report also contains the chilling phrase "the DECC will develop innovative ways of working with the private sector, acting as an enabler rather than a provider." Presumably because they'll no longer be in a position to provide anything.

Bizarrely the Lib Dem minister Chris Huhne said: “DECC is playing its part in tackling the deficit. Like the rest of the public sector we have taken some tough decisions, but we remain on course to deliver on our promise to be the greenest government ever. We will help create green jobs and green growth - and secure the low carbon investment we need to keep the lights on.”


Chris Hyland said...

What are the bets "low carbon investment we need to keep the lights on" means nuclear power stations.

Jim Jepps said...

too right - Chris Huhne has made it clear he's pro-nuclear now and has identified ten sites for new plants.

In the CSR they expanded the funding for the Nuclear Decommisioning Agency (which takes up a big portion of the DECC budget). However, despite it's name it basically deals with nuclear waste rather than actually closing down nuclear plants :(