Green bodies all at risk
The temporary reprieve on forests sales, following Defra’s rushed announcement last weekend, can’t mask the threat to the independence of environment bodies in the UK from Schedule 7 of the Public Bodies Act. The Committee on Climate Change is at risk. Without further legislation or debate, under Schedule 7 Ministers will have the power to close public bodies like the CCC, change their constitution, cut funding or transfer their functions without further consultation. The CCC’s impartial, evidence based advice has helped shaped the UK’s energy and green investment priorities since the groundbreaking Climate Change Act 2008. Recently, it challenged government over the “lack of clarity over long-term energy and related technology policy objectives”.
As reported in the ENDS bulletin, the coalition instructed the Environment Agency and Natural England to stop policymaking. Likewise, it closed the Sustainable Development Commission and the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. The CCC now seems to be in the Government’s sights. This is how the Big Society works:
- Schedule 1 – bodies to be abolished, examples: Environmental Protection Advisory Committees; Forestry Advisory Committees.
- Schedule 3: constitutional change: National Parks, Nature Conservation, Drainage Boards.
- Schedule 4: funding changes – Natural England; Drinking Water and other inspectorates.
- Schedules 5 and 6: functions changed or transferred: Environment Agency, National Parks, Broads Authority,
- Schedule 7: bodies that can be transferred to any of Schedules 1 to 6: all of the above; plus Committee on Climate Change; Royal Botanic Gardens; marine management bodies; NDA; Ofwat; regional floods and coastal management bodies; Advisory Committees on releases to the Environment.
Defra’s flip reflected 490,000 signatures on the e-petition to keep forests in public ownership. Defra said: “The programme of forestry sales announced in the Spending Review in October 2010 will be temporarily suspended until extra protections on access and biodiversity are put in place. Once this has happened, the sales will go ahead. This only applies to the 15% of the public forestry estate referred to in the Spending Review. It is not connected to the ongoing consultation on the future management of the other 85% of the public forest estate which Defra announced on 27 January. This open and genuine consultation will continue until 21 April 2011 and is unaffected by today’s announcement.”
The notion of “open and genuine consultation” appears at odds with the Ministerial powers taken in Schedules 1 to 7.