Watchdog says green steps help close budget gap

LONDON Thu Jul 22, 2010 1:52pm BST

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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain has saved up to 70 million pounds a year by making government departments more energy efficient and the effort could help cut a huge budget deficit, a state watchdog said on Thursday.

But as part of austerity-driven budget cuts, the new conservative-liberal government announced later it was axing funding for the watchdog Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), and having the environment ministry assume its duties.

In a report, the SDC said improving energy efficiency would assist the drive to close a budget gap now running at 11 percent of national output, and it praised the government's commitment to reducing emissions by 10 percent in 12 months.

"Beyond the wider environmental, social and economic benefits of greening government, there is an immediate financial imperative to do so," SDC Chairman Will Day said in a foreword to the report entitled, "Becoming the greenest government ever."

"Sustainable development is no peripheral, nice to-have concept for times when it can be afforded. It is the best way of delivering more for less, while ensuring that the drive for efficiencies doesn't cost more in the long run," Day wrote.

In the annual report, the SDC said the adoption of green measures in 2008-2009 amounted to 60-70 million pounds in cost savings and equivalent benefit for British society.

It said road travel cuts by central government departments saved 13.7 million pounds in fuel costs.

Dramatic reductions in the use of water and cuts to waste also helped contribute significant cost savings but progress under the previous Labour government was too slow, the SDC said.

Recommending more coordination across departments in how resources are used, the SDC said the government could learn from the private sector, where there are many examples of sustainable development being successfully built into business models.

Japanese car maker Toyota for example, the SDC said, put a range of measures in place to encourage staff to be more aware of environmental issues, contributing to significant reductions in energy usage and waste since the early 1990s.

Waste could also be reduced by improving procurement procedures and more effectively managing demand for information technology and travel, the SDC added. It cited the example of the Department of Work and Pensions extending the cycle of replacement for computers from three to five years.

The SDC had been jointly owned by the administrations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The national government covered two-thirds of its 3-million-pound budget.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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