There was good news this morning as Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman announced that DEFRA is to cut funding for the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC). That will save taxpayers £1.9 million a year immediately. Hopefully it will also make the SDC financially unsustainable, forcing it to close, and taxpayers will save more money as other grants from bodies like the devolved assemblies are cut. They received more than £4.1 million in 2007-08.
We called for the abolition of the SDC last August in a report on taxpayer funded political campaigns. It basically operated as a big political think tank, doing work similar to that performed by Friends of the Earth, the New Economics Foundation or the Green Alliance, with a sideline helping government departments cut their emissions. Here are some examples from our report of how they function as a political campaign:
"The organisation recently released a report from one of its commissioners entitled “Prosperity without Growth?” This “challenges the assumption of continued economic expansion in rich countries and asks: is it possible to achieve prosperity without growth?” The organisation is now recruiting a Senior Economic Policy Analyst who will “[work] with the SDC’s Economics Commissioner to lead and develop opportunities for engagement and advocacy of SDC’s recent report: Prosperity without Growth: Transition to a sustainable economy with stakeholders including government.”
That clearly political report is part of a broader pattern. Another recent report called for a “sustainable new deal”, which would involve spending £30 billion a year for three years on a “green recovery package”. Their most recent report states that “Natural justice tells us that individual emissions of C02 must, in the long run, “converge” around the same per capita entitlement” and calls for “personal carbon budgets”, a form of cap and trade for individual people.
Since its foundation, the Chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission has been Jonathan Porritt. He describes himself as a “hardened anti-nuclear campaigner” and “an environmentalist with a bit of a track record”.
Mr. Porritt is a patron of the Optimum Population Trust which argues that the UK’s sustainable population is 17 million (under a third of the present level) and has attacked the UN declaration that people have a “basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and timing of their children”. He has praised China’s One Child Family Policy."
So you pay for campaigners to tell the Government that economic growth, rising prosperity for you and other Britons, is a bad thing.
They make a rather half-hearted attempt to claim that their work to improve the environmental performance in government saves money. Here is the quote from the report they source which sets out the kind of thing we're talking about:
- "£13.7M fuel savings from reduced road travel in 2008-09 alone. This also saved the equivalent of 1.7million hours of staff time – over 1,000 full time staff working a full year – without counting the savings from reduced car purchases, repairs and administration
- Savings of 18 million cubic metres of water – the equivalent of 7,200 Olympic swimming pools, adding up to £13M worth of water bills in 2008-09
- Landfill cost savings from reducing waste by 126,000 tonnes in 2009-08 – the equivalent of the total waste produced by over 250,000 UK individuals"
Families and businesses constantly improve their efficiency in this kind of way. In recent decades emissions intensity - emissions per pound of national income - has fallen by more than 2.5% a year. Sometimes public sector bodies manage the same kind of improvement. There is no reason to think that will stop happening if we scrap the SDC.
In the end, the central work of the SDC was always its attempts to influence policy. Here is the first paragraph on their "About us" page:
"The Sustainable Development Commission is the Government's independent
adviser on sustainable development, reporting to the Prime Minister, the
First Ministers of Scotland and Wales and the First Minister and Deputy
First Minister of Northern Ireland. Through advocacy, advice and
appraisal, we help put sustainable development at the heart of
Groups like the New Economics Foundation should be free to espouse the views that the SDC has. But they shouldn't get taxpayers' money to do so and there certainly shouldn't be a quango with a multi-million pound budget to promote particular political causes. It is a saving for taxpayers and a contribution to a fairer political debate that the SDC has been abolished.