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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Time the Welsh Government stopped just paying lip service to the environment

One of the weaknesses of devolved government in Wales is the apparent belief amongst ministers that passing legislation is sufficient to show their commitment to a specific cause without having to follow-through by modifying their behaviour in other ways.

The Well-being of Future Generations Act is the best example of this tendency. This legislation was meant to create a framework to force public sector bodies to work in a more sustainable way. These bodies need to make sure that when making their decisions they take into account the impact they could have on people living their lives in Wales in the future.

It all sounds very nice, but it is also tremendously problematic, so much so that when it was going through the Assembly it became a legislative hot potato which many ministers would not touch with a barge pole.

The problem rests in the vagueness of the provisions in the Act, so much so that the Welsh Government that created it, appear to be able to square their commitments to the environment and future generations with a pledge to build a £1.1 billion motorway extension that will impinge on five SSSIs and generate tonnes of additional carbon-based pollution.

That decision has been criticised by the Future Generations Commissioner, a post created by the Act. She says: “Building roads is an old fashioned solution to addressing congestion and we should instead be seeking to invest in better public transport which would be a more useful solution for the 25% of Welsh families who have no access to a car whilst also supporting the obligations we have to reduce our carbon footprint” She is right.

And now we have the row over the Welsh Government's budget, which demonstrates that the environment is very much lower in their list of priorities than it should be under the terms of their own legislation.

The BBC reports that Wildlife and countryside charities have been left "bewildered and angry" by a 15% cut to environment funding by the Welsh Government. To be fair a lot of this funding is a technical transfer, the subsuming of a earmarked grant into general funds.

It means that councils no longer have to spend the money in a particular way, but they still have to meet the waste targets that the cash funded or be subject to fines. In that respect the transfer should not have too adverse an effect. Outcomes are what matters when protecting the environment, not inputs. However, even discounting this transfer there is still a 1.5% cut in funding for the environment.

The Welsh Government may have had a real terms cut in its funding and seek to use that as an excuse, but they were the ones who built a framework that made the environment a major priority. Should their budget decisions not reflect that? Or perhaps they should confess that it has been all about the rhetoric from the start.
Penultimate paragraph does not read well...

Great to highlight this issue though. Thanks Peter
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