No improvement in Whitehall reporting on environment

The credibility of Labour's "greening Government" initiative has been dealt another blow after most Departments said almost nothing on their environmental performance in their first annual reports under the new administration.

The 1991 White Paper on the environment committed all Government Departments to "regular" reporting on their environmental achievements, either in their annual reports or elsewhere.

In the seven years since, their actual reporting has been of a standard which no private company that had made a similar pledge could hope to get away with. Most reports have either failed to mention the environment at all, or offered a couple of token paragraphs. And where "green housekeeping" data have been provided, they have invariably lacked baselines to give them meaning - the sole exception being data on energy efficiency, for which there is a Government-wide target and monitoring and reporting system.

In opposition, Labour spokesmen were vocal in criticising the Conservative administration for failing to live up to its promise. But hopes of an improvement have been dashed by the latest set of Departmental reports.

Most Departments make no reference to the environment in their mainstream operations and restrict themselves to green housekeeping. Very few mention environmental appraisals of their policies - an area in which Whitehall has generally been shown to be falling down (ENDS Report 271, pp 3-4 ). An isolated exception is the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which mentions an appraisal of a local environmental improvement project - though it remains to be seen how the Department will appraise the environmental implications of its forthcoming policy on tourism.

Green housekeeping performance data and targets are also very thin on the ground. As before, the only target quoted widely is the objective to cut energy consumption by 15% from 1990/1 levels by 1995/96 and by 20% by 2000. This appears in most reports, though some include little more than this. The Inland Revenue's report, for example, contains four lines on energy consumption but nothing more on the environment.

Moreover, most Departments are selective in reporting their performance against the energy efficiency target. The DCMS says it is "proceeding to achieve a cost-effective reduction in energy consumption in accordance with targets set by Green Ministers" - but omits to mention that its energy efficiency deteriorated by no less than 16% in the two years to 1996/97. Several other Departments whose energy efficiency has worsened since 1990 fail to mention this.

Targets in other areas are conspicuous by their absence. The Treasury reports a target to reduce waste by 10% over a two-year period. Waste and recycling are also touched on by the Home Office, DCMS and Department of Health, but no targets are identified. Green procurement is barely mentioned in any report.

Some executive agencies highlighted the poor quality of their parent Departments' reports by providing better information. The Office for National Statistics, for example, itemises a series of green housekeeping commitments - in contrast to two vague paragraphs by its Treasury parent.

Some Departments whose policies and operations have more obvious environmental implications have provided more comprehensive data. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), for example, gives details and costs for its programmes to protect the rural and marine environment and lists its "key environmental achievements". But even this report does not say whether previous targets have been met and rarely sets new ones.

The Department of Trade and Industry and Welsh Office, whose reports include separate sections on the environment as well as coverage of green issues elsewhere, are also among the better reporters - though targets are still few and far between.

A major embarrassment for the Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions (DETR) - the lead Department on "greening Government" - was its failure to provide any data on its environmental performance. Glenda Jackson, the DETR's Green Minister, called this an "oversight" when questioned by a parliamentary inquiry in May (see p 33 ).

The continuing poor quality of environmental reporting by Whitehall comes on top of revelations that some Departments are resisting the introduction of environmental management systems on dubious cost grounds (ENDS Report 279, p 3 ).

The "greening Government" initiative received a boost in May when Environment Minister Michael Meacher launched a model framework to help Departments develop many of the aims, objectives and targets which were absent from most of this year's reports.1The framework comprises a model policy statement and improvement programme which they can adopt in full or modify to suit their needs. It covers all aspects of their operations, including green housekeeping, procurement and environmental management. Although the framework contains little new, by proposing targets and indicators for regular review it may help Departments sharpen up their performance.

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