Author Tony Whitbread
While many in parliament, and in government departments, are trying to find ways of recognising and reflecting the value of nature in national accounting, the Chancellor still seems to view the environment as a cost to be beaten down.
In his 2013 Budget, Chancellor George Osborne has again put long-term prosperity at risk with a short-term bid for so-called growth.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and its beleaguered environmental agencies face further big cuts after the Chancellor raided the Department’s budget to pay for more spending on major infrastructure projects.
Even before the anticipated £11.5bn extra cuts across Government, to be announced in June, £37m will be lost from Defra and its already cash-strapped agencies which have huge responsibilities for dealing with flooding, water pollution, plant and tree diseases and protecting and enhancing important places for wildlife.
The savings will contribute to increased spending on potentially damaging major infrastructure from 2015-16, and coincide with a drop in petrol duty. So the Chancellor is reducing investment in natural capital in order to throw money at damaging activities.
The Wildlife Trusts have been calling on the Chancellor to invest in the natural environment – our natural capital - as a way to secure our long-term prosperity.
Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said:
"Despite the fundamental importance of the natural environment to people’s lives, the Department in charge of looking after it has a tiny budget – that is hit incredibly hard with each spending review. The debate about the public forests has shown how important our natural assets are: people care passionately about their local woods and parks; and they are fundamental to the quality of our lives and our well-being. Nature is also of vast economic value - just £20m of Government money is invested in the public forest estate each year yielding economic benefits of over £400m per year.
“The case for a different approach is clear. For example, investment in job creation through environmental projects is an investment in our natural capital and in reducing our welfare bills. These are the kinds of new and innovative win-win ideas that the Government needs to grasp.
“Defra had to stomach unusually high budget cuts in 2011. Sadly these further cuts indicate a Government that does not understand the value of nature and its importance to our future prosperity.”
Failure to recognise the value of nature in our national accounting is not just bad for the environment, its bad maths! How can government know if it is creating prosperity if it does not, or will not, measure those things that make up prosperity.