Written evidence submitted by Waterwise |
- Waterwise recognises the driver of reducing the
deficit, but regrets the withdrawal of funding from the SDC, whose
annual budget is far outstripped by the savings it identifies
for Whitehall through sustainability measures.
- It will be essential to retain at least some
of the SDC's functions.
- Some can be fulfilled within government, but
measures will need to be put in place to seek to ensure they are
- Some functions can be fulfilled at best value
through the third sector.
- Measures need to be taken to fulfill the specific
potential of water efficiency in the sustainability of the government
1. Waterwise recognises that "reducing the
deficit is the priority for the Government and all departments
are playing their part in making efficiency savings", as
reiterated by the Secretary of State in the statement she made
withdrawing funding from the Sustainable Development Commission
on 22 July.
2. However, Waterwise regrets the withdrawal
of funding from the SDC, which fulfills a vital "watchdog"
role, identifying and monitoring sustainability actions in government
which are essential both if the Coalition Government is to fulfill
its commitment to be the "greenest government ever",
and to help cut the deficit. The SDC has also in the past performed
a role of cross-governmental "banging heads together",
where Departments have become entrenched in their views (which
can happen in any government), and it is to the previous government's
credit that, having set up the SDC to do exactly this, it did
respond to at least some of the SDC's entreaties on issues such
as transport and energy.
3. As other commentators have pointed out, the
SDC's annual budget of £3m is far outstripped by the savings
it identifies for Whitehall through sustainability measures. In
its most recent annual report on government progress in meeting
its SOGE (Sustainable Operations on the Government Estate) targets
(between 2006 and 2009), the SDC calculates that government saved
£25.5 million in water bills through water efficiency
measures between 2006 and 2009, including £13 million
in 2008-2009. It also suggests that a £3 million SALIX
(spend-to-save) fund for the public sector would yield 20% cuts
in water savings and payback within one year, and that a further
10% reduction in water use would yield a further annual £5 million
in savings. Many savings would be enjoyed year-on-year and so
the earlier they can be achieved, the earlier savings can start
to be made. The document also shows that MOD is by far the biggest
water user in government - accounting for 67% of consumption -
where financial savings from water efficiency could free up large
amounts for frontline spending.
4. With the SDC abolished, Waterwise agrees with
the Coalition Government that it will be essential to retain at
least some of its functions. Some could be fulfilled within government,
but measures will need to be put in place to seek to ensure these
are effective, and even then the removal of the public, arms'-length
tier will lessen the impact. Waterwise believes that some of the
Sustainable Development Commission's functions will need to be
continued to be carried out independently of government, in a
watchdog/advisory role, potentially through the third sector,
at best value, and funded through a levy on government departments
which would be more than balanced by resulting savings.
5. Below, Waterwise discusses the SDC's four
main work areas:
- "Promoting awareness of the concept of sustainable
- "Establishing good working practices within
- "Advising key Ministers and others across
6. These three functions are supported by policy
knowledge and technical and expert advice, and could in theory
be carried out in government. In practice it is likely that even
Defra and DECC will revert to their own departmental policy priorities
rather than driving cross-government estate management. Furthermore,
it is difficult to envisage departments across Whitehall jumping
to deliver on a sustainability agenda pushed by Defra and DECC
if this doesn't have public scrutiny, and at a time when staff
and programme funding is being substantially cut, and work considered
non-essential ceasing to reach a department's top priorities,
if it still has staff and finance attached to it at all. The loss
of the role of public scrutiny in this process, as well as its
move away from its sitting above and beyond both departmental
and immediate policy priorities, will be very likely to lessen
its impact. Even existing high-level commitment from Permanent
Secretaries in the form of personal objectives, combined with
the auditing role of the SDC, does not currently lead to best-in-field
behaviour in terms of sustainability on the government estate.
The loss of both of these in the current financial climate is
likely to have the multiple impact of threatening the sustainability
of government, its ability to cut its running costs and its ability
to set an example and drive markets in procurement and goods.
- "Monitoring performance against sustainable
development targets and reporting on these".
7. These functions
are the ones which most clearly (more than) pay for themselves
over time, through delivery. If this is one of the drivers for
the Coalition Government's decision to abandon the SDC, as stated,
then it is particularly important to maintain this function. The
increased value and impact of arms'-length identification of potential
measures and savings and then monitoring of their implementation
and impact has been proven time and again across the economy -
and this broad model is indeed the basis of the structure of the
regulatory framework for privatised utilities. These functions
could be delivered at arms' length from government through the
third sector, funded at best value through a levy on government
departments which would be more than balanced by resulting savings.
An NGO body or bodies could identify potential measures and monitor
progress on specific areas such as water efficiency, energy efficiency,
transport and waste, and how these all help to deliver carbon
targets (as well as adaptation goals, in the case of water efficiency).
It will be important for high-level commitment to targets and
delivery to be maintained, and the delivery NGO(s) could sit on
a committee which held Permanent Secretaries to account for their
own delivery. The aim should be procurement, ongoing estate management
and staff behaviour which is best-in-class, including through
mandatory, regularly updated procurement rules. Procurement should
be carried out cross-government rather than devolved to departments,
and this could be supported by the above committee, with individual
departments reporting on ongoing performance in terms of, for
example, water and energy savings and bills. At the very least,
government departments should continue to report annually, but
this should be supported by real-time reporting online of sustainability
attainment on the government estate. Sustainability reporting
in terms of financial savings, environmental (including quantified
savings) and social benefits should be mandated in departmental
8. Water efficiency - wasting less water - is
an essential part of both adapting to and tackling climate change,
ensuring less water goes further and cutting carbon emissions
from heating, treating and pumping water and wastewater.
9. To date, programmes and policies undertaken
by both the Coalition Government and the previous administration
to tackle climate change, adapt to it, and develop the low-carbon
and green economies are energy-heavy and do not reflect or include
the important role of water efficiency.
10. Water efficiency can play an important role
in the Coalition Government's deficit reduction this year and
beyond - it can actively reduce running and procurement costs
for central government and public sector bodies, on both water
and energy, freeing up costs for frontline spending for example
in the National Health Service and the Ministry of Defence. Simple
measures can cut running costs by up to 20%, and water efficient
procurement does not increase capital costs.
11. Water efficiency can also help central government
meet its 10% carbon reduction target within 12 months - reducing
wasted hot water in showers, taps, dishwashers and washing machines.
Most public sector buildings in the UK are metered for water.
This means that if they waste less water - through "domestic"
processes such as taps, toilets, urinals and showers, and dishwashers
and washing machines, as well as in industrial processes such
as cleaning and cooling, they will see immediate reductions in
their water bills. For example, many workplaces still have urinals
which flush constantly, but there are now UK-manufactured products
which flush only when a sensor is triggered, or less frequently,
or not at all. Wasting less hot water in workplaces would also
cut energy bills.
12. The top 40 water-consuming hospitals in England
consume about 20 megalitres a day which is equivalent to the water
used by about 50,000 homes. Water savings of 15-25% could be achieved
through retrofitting water-efficient equipment and working with
staff and patients to change behaviour. These savings could supply
enough water for 12,500 families in areas such as the South East
and East of England which are under pressure from increasing population
and climate change.
13. Water efficiency strategies and targets based
on actual measures and water (and carbon) savings should be included
in departmental adaptation plans, which tend currently to focus
on flood risk management. Water efficiency should be included
in carbon budgets. Public sector procurement should mandate the
most water-efficient products currently available on the market,
and be regularly updated.
12 October 2010