Tuesday, 27 July 2010

A Cut Too Far

On Thursday DEFRA announced that funding would be withdrawn from the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) from next financial year. From the view point of an official given the task to identify savings to meet the government’s ambitious plans to cut expenditure, this is a simple decision. The SDC is a quango that is not directly responsible for front-line services; therefore it should go. If we lived in a sustainable society – as I hope will be the case within the next decade or two – the SDC would indeed become irrelevant. Now, as we struggle to understand the policy choices required of the transition to a sustainable society, the SDC is vital.

Governments have to find ways to bring sustainability experts inside the decision making process. In the United States, President Obama appointed climate expert Steven Chu to be Secretary of Energy. The UK government established the Sustainability Commission (SDC). This organisation is outside government, to be free to carry out the analysis unencumbered by existing policy or political constraints, and with the ear of government to be able to influence future policy. In the current financial climate it is not surprising that, along with many other quangos, funding for the SDC has been withdrawn. I hope that this decision will be reviewed because the logic for the SDC remains strong. I argue that the SDC can leverage greater savings elsewhere in government than its £3 million budget.

Withdrawing funding from the SDC is a cut too far. This will leave government departments reliant on external consultants. There is a growing army of consultants who have been rebadged as sustainability consultants to satisfy demand. These are green in every sense. I hope they learn quickly; there are important policy choices to make and the need for deep thinking has never been greater.

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