After much trailing and spinning the Budget finally appeared yesterday. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment (given this is a Grasslands Trust blog) on tax cuts for the rich, mansion taxes or granny taxes, so I won’t.
Compared to the Autumn statement, the Chancellor held back on his anti-environmental ideology. He couldn’t resist one anti-environmental jibe though – “environmentally sustainable must always be fiscally sustainable” .
I thought I would find out exactly what fiscal sustainability means; I think I know what environmental sustainability is about. I’m no economist so this is all slightly alien to me, but I found a report about it from the Office for Budget Responsibility and they’re well respected.
Actually reading the executive summary of the report (which was long enough) fiscal responsibility is a difficult thing to tie down, but broadly speaking it’s a way of looking at the public sector’s assets and liabilities and constructing a balance sheet. If that balance sheet is negative (more liabilities than assets) then fiscal sustainability is not there now, and if projections indicate that liabilities will continue to exceed assets in the future, then fiscal sustainability will not be reached in the future. Interestingly the OBR point the finger at demographics as the main cause of long term fiscal unsustainability, not our current deficit.
So how does environmental sustainability relate to fiscal sustainability? Surprise surprise this most recent OBR report on fiscal sustainability makes no mention of environmental sustainability, but does point out that the Treasury receives substantial assets (income) from environmental taxes.
So what are we to make of the Chancellor’s statement? Simplistically to me this sounds like the Chancellor stating that the environment is a luxury, a bolt-on, not the basis for human existence, providing the life support services we rely on.
Other announcements such as the new “dash for gas”, a new airport for South East England (Boris Island?), and a big subsidy for oil companies to open up new oil fields west of Shetland, indicate the continuing battle between the Treasury and DECC over carbon reduction targets.
Finally hidden at the back of the budget report not mentioned in the speech is the announcement that the Bexhill to Hastings link road will go ahead. This controversial road scheme is redolent of the worst days of the “Roads to Prosperity” road building programeof the 80s and 90s, with such gems as Twyford Down and Newbury. The new road will shave the edge of the High Weald AONB and affect a very important grassland at Combe Haven SSSI and several local wildlife sites as well as the deeply historic landscape of the Norman landings. It’s no little irony that this is Climate Change minister Greg Barker’s constituency.
Oh and the other nugget slipped out yesterday is that Oxford Professor of Energy Policy Dieter Helm has been appointed chair of the Natural Capital Committee.