DOE Consultation Response 2011

 Response to The Department of the Environment (DOE) Consultation re Budget Proposals.

Ecological status as a basis for a more sustainable, competitive NI needs to given a high priority. There has been so much preparatory work completed over the last three years implementing Water Framework Directive and River Basin Management plans, which aim to achieve improved environmental and ecological standards. This work needs to be continued and developed.

Natural Living Assets is interested in maintaining and developing the sustainability of Rivers in Northern Ireland; to ensure that these assets and their natural habitats add value to public enjoyment and public amenity in Northern Ireland. A key economic goal of Natural Living Assets is to promote and develop ecologically and socially sound community projects which can contribute to a better economy in Northern Ireland and that are sustainable. (eg fishing, angling, farming crafts, tourism and business in general).

The reduced DOE budget whilst mostly financially nonnegotiable requires structural modification to ensure funds are allocated in an equitable and fair way for the greater good within Northern Ireland. Determining how to spend a reduced budget will always demand tough decisions.

Northern Ireland Environment Agency

A key responsibility of the DOE is to be responsible for overseeing the role of Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) to ensure that sound environmental practices are adhered to in Northern Ireland.  Partnership working and good environmental practice for the greater good are defined as goals of DOE. Any decisions to cut projects need to consider the sustainability principles of a modern world where environmental standards are critical to the competitive success of an economy.

6 Key Projects To Be Funded From A Plastic Bag Levy

The consultation document makes much of an estimated £4 Million to be raised from a plastic bag levy to fund budget deficits. Six projects have been de selected to be resourced form plastic bag levy including £1 million from river restoration projects.  There is no clarity about how or why these projects were deselected and how the plastic bag levy will be used to fund these.

The need is to focus on achieving outcomes despite the cuts in finance.

Impact on Sustainability

It was reported that there would not be a risk to sustainability goals under the current proposals. But that can only occur if the recent momentum for improved environmental standards is maintained. In light of the budgetary cuts a mechanism to fully engage the resources of the community and voluntary sector is required to ensure environmental needs continue to be met. We all life in a very competitive global world and there is much to gain from collaborating with the wider community to remain competitive and sustainable, within the world to make the budget go further.

Needs Based Planning / Re Design

The Department of the Environment along with other departments such as DARD DCAL….. And so on (as there are many in Northern Ireland) have an opportunity to re organise; to embrace a wider agenda and implement needs based planning. Current silo departmental organisation and decision making is inefficient. Economic, social and sustainability principles provide an opportunity now to re design how limited money is spent. The wider society in Northern Ireland needs to be supported to progress to shared, aspired environmental goals. Any funding shortfalls must not be allowed to prevent responsible progress towards sustainability. A new, more efficient, community empowering way of managing the environment is required.

As a public sector civil service department DOE is responsible to ensure it supports a more sustainable environment.

Smaller Units Of Operation

DOE would achieve better outcomes by assessing the needs of the environment afresh, and planning to provide support and guidance to smaller business organisations, community groups and charities to deliver environmental goals that improve the overall sustainability of NI as a place to live and do business.

The New Green Deal

The new green deal has been discussed as a possible way forward which supports initiatives to use energy more efficiently in the context of Global warming. The new green deal needs to be broadened to facilitate competitive delivery of environmental monitoring programmes and the desired environmental improvement programmes.

Service Level Agreements, Contracted Work and training

This could be achieved by contracting out services and providing social security and other financial support to those motivated to do such work. Control would by exercised by using service level agreements and providing training to oversee any contracted out projects. Spending budget allocations in this way would be more efficient and achieve higher environmental sustainable standards.

Sustainability

The priorities for budget allocation in line with economic and sustainability goals need to be more clearly identified. Any cuts which reduce the ability to deliver outcomes will be unsustainable. The money available should be utilised to ensure goals are met, as opposed to cutting to save money in a way that will compromise outcomes and which could prove to be unsustainable. 

Financial resources need to be re allocated not just to ensure that head count functionality remains but to ensure that people and community groups in Northern Ireland are empowered to deliver key environmental responsibilities. Hence a reallocation of spending priorities from top down to bottom up supports is required. Efficiency improvements need to be more about doing more with less and managing to ensure needs are met despite cuts.

This could be achieved by facilitating greater allocations to the voluntary and charitable sector to ensure the overall needs of society are met. The DOE is charged with looking after the environment. Simply cutting staff cost by cutting staff, runs the risk of failing to achieve overall outcomes and would undermine the progress made in recent years towards sustainable development.

Simply imposing cuts without significant structural change would not be a sustainable solution.

The Business Sector

Successful blue chip multi national companies in NI need to be asked where and how they can contribute to the wider societal goals required from sustainable development and environmental goals. (This may already happen to some extent via corporation tax.) Many will have their own environmental standards and where these are high enough environmental awards should be made to illustrate best practice for environmental management. Many Multi national companies have reserves of cash assets that could be used to assist in the achievement of environmental and other departmental shortfalls. They will be able to sponsor environmental and habitat improvement awards that will assist in their profile as a socially responsible corporations.

I hope that this budget consultation will provide an opportunity for new structures of management within DOE and other departments to empower small businesses, community groups and charity organisations to assist in delivering a more sustainable, prosperous Northern Ireland at the forefront of successful global economies and that the ecological integrity of our river in Northern Ireland can continue to be developed sustainably.  

Brendan Kerr

Natural Living Assets

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