The Austerity Enforcement Gap – Our Environment

16th September 2019 / United Kingdom
The Austerity Enforcement Gap - Our Environment

Strong rules help to make sure that the air we breathe and the water we drink is clean, that our food is safe and correctly labelled, our natural spaces are being looked after, and the products we buy are safe. Strong rules protect the most vulnerable in society and provide a level playing-field for British businesses. They allow us to get on with all the things we want to do in life, and they are part of what we have come to expect, and it’s common sense to maintain them. But over the years, the agencies which enforce the rules have had their budgets substantially reduced. Strapped for cash and short on staff, many watchdogs no longer have the tools for the important jobs they do.

Unchecked is a new campaign which investigates the UK’s shrinking enforcement capacity and exposes the real-world costs of the failure to properly enforce the rules. This briefing outlines some of their findings, which we are publishing this week.

Overall, from 2009/10 to 2016/17, real-terms funding for the environmental and social protection work of ten key national regulators1 fell on average by 50%. The total number of full-time staff working at these regulators fell by 30% in this period. And from 2009/10 to 2016/17, spending by Local Authorities and fire authorities in England on key services which protect the health and wellbeing of citizens and the environment fell on average by 35%.

Overall, in areas regarding our environment:

From 2009/10 to 2016/17 funding for Natural England fell by 66%, and total Environment Agency prosecutions of businesses fell by 80%. The consequence is that serious pollution incidents in the UK from the farming, water and waste sectors are a weekly occurrence


Safeguarding the environment: money and manpower

  • From 2010/11 to 2016/17, the Environment Agency’s environmental protection budget 4 fell by 62%
  • Environment Agency staff fell by 22% Natural England • Funding for Natural England fell by 66%
  • Natural England permanent staff numbers fell by 21%
  • Funding for the Forestry Commission fell by 53%
  • Forestry Commission staff fell by 32%
  • Funding for Natural Resources Wales has reduced by 15% since it’s inception in 2013
  • Funding for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency fell by 34%


Enforcement activity

  • Total Environment Agency prosecutions of businesses fell by 80%
  • The number of water pollution samples taken by the Environment Agency fell by 28%
  • From 2010/10 to 2017/18, the number of prosecutions by the Environment Agency for waste crime fell by 33%
  • The number of pollution incidents logged by the Environment Agency fell by 29%
  • Natural England’s expenditure on science and evidence gathering fell by 10%
  • Between 2013/14 & 2016/17, less than 1% of water pollution incidents in Wales resulted in a prosecution or civil sanction
  • Prosecutions for wildlife crime in the UK fell by 57%
  • Nearly half of Sites of Special Scientific Interest haven’t been checked by Natural England in the last six years
  • In 2013/14, 29% of planning applications deadlines missed by Natural England were linked to ‘agency resourcing’. In 2016/17, this had increased to 73%


Source: UncheckedThe Enforcement Gap Report



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