Environment secretary’s decision likely to spell the end of the Sustainable Development Commission

Environment secretary Caroline Spelman today confirmed that the government will be withdrawing funding from the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), which scrutinises the government’s environmental policies.

The SDC has been at the forefront of policy pressure on the government over making construction, particularly of housing and schools, more sustainable.

The decision was made as Spelman announced the abolition of another four quangos under the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, along with reforms to a total of 30.

In a statement she maintained the Coalition government was determined to be the greenest ever. She said: “Reducing the deficit is priority for the government and all departments are playing their part in making efficiency savings. I am determined to play the lead role in driving the sustainability agenda across the whole of government and I am not willing to delegate this responsibility to an external body. Times have changed since many of these bodies were set up and much of what they do is now everyday government business.”

Will Day, chair of the Sustainable Development Commission, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the decision, which came despite the fact the body had delivered efficiency savings totalling “many times” the grant invested in it.

He said: “Our work has delivered efficiency savings totalling many times what the organisation has cost the government, and contributed towards much greater sustainability in government – both in the way it runs itself, and the decisions it makes about our wellbeing and our future.

“We note the commitment of the secretaries of state for Defra and DECC to playing a lead role on sustainable development across government. We await with interest the details of how a degree of cross-government independent scrutiny is to be achieved.”

It is very unlikely the body, which receives two-thirds of its funding from Defra and was set up to scrutinise Whitehall, will survive without the £1.9m annual grant.

In the past the body has led criticism of the government for failing to meet its targets to reduce carbon emissions from the government estate.

Paul King, chief executive of the UK Green Building Council said he was “concerned” by the decision. He said: “Although the Committee on Climate Change has a critical role as watchdog and advisor on carbon emissions, the SDC had a much broader remit. All government policy needs to be assessed through a sustainable development lens, not just carbon emissions. This will now put more of an onus on the private and third sectors to carry out this role.”

The news follows the decision last month by housing minister Grant Shapps to withdraw funding for the Zero Carbon Hub, which was set up to ensure the housebuilding industry can achieve the government’s target to make all homes zero carbon by 2016.