Midlands MP charged with reversing government's appalling environmental record

The government has named West Bromwich MP, Tom Watson, as the head of a task force aimed at improving its dismal environmental procurement record.

Watson, who is Cabinet Office Minister, will be working to implement a delivery plan put together by the new Centre of Expertise in Sustainable Procurement (CESP) based within the Office of Government Commerce (OGC).

Gordon Brown will be hoping that the body’s work will improve a lamentable record in the area. CESP itself was founded in response to heavily critical report from the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), the government’s sustainability watchdog, published in March. (See box)

The new plan sets out mechanisms that departments can use to make environmental improvements, including introducing procurement frameworks and rationalising workspaces for more efficient use. Green IT programmes are also part of the plan.

Tom Watson, the first blogging MP, who lists ‘growing vegetables’ among his interests, has been appointed to ensure a cross-departmental role that delivers on sustainable targets.

He said: “A lower carbon economy is probably the single biggest issue facing us all today and government has a crucial leadership role in limiting the effects of climate change. That is why we have set ourselves targets to deliver carbon reductions from our offices, our cars, waste, recycling and water consumption.”

Farooq Ullah, policy analyst from the SDC's watchdog team, said that, while the report was full of 'good stuff', CESP needed to provide leadership within government and departments.

"They are planning on colllating a lot of the Whitehall initiatives that are already in place rather than doing some of the radical things we suggested in our report. They need to take a step back and consider big picture, including things like self-generated renewables."

Meanwhile, the government has published guidance on transitional measures to help public bodies produce DECs and advisory reports on a site or campus. As reported in Building last month, CLG relaxed rules to allow one energy certificate to cover a whole estate if data cannot be collected for individual buildings before the October deadline.

What the Sustainable Development Commission found ...

... that up to two-thirds of government departments were not likely to meet 12.5% of CO2 emissions reductions by the 2010/11 target
- that only 46 out of 351 new build / refurbishment projects were assessed against BREEAM standards
- that only 28 of these (8% of total projects) met the required BREEAM ‘Very Good’ standard; only 12 of 21 departments required self-imposed ‘Quick Wins’ – a list of minimum environmental product standards, including construction products – in commonly purchased products.
- that there were fundamental measurement and reporting issues inherent in the process.