Environmental advice – are ministers talking to the wrong people?

Central Government, Water Companies

Barry White

An interesting story was recently revealed by openDemocracy, the Online independent international media platform about The Council for Sustainable Business and body which advises the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on how businesses can help achieve the aims of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan.

According to the Government’s web site https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/council-for-sustainable-business the council provides a sounding board for how:

  • businesses can help achieve the 25 Year Environment Plan goals
  • the government can help businesses in meeting these goals
  • business can be mobilised to take further action

The Council is chaired by Liv Severn Trent Water, CEO whose company has a questionable track record on environmental matters. The report reminds us that Severn Water has been fined millions for pumping raw sewage into British waters. Garfield earns close to £4m a year as the highest paid CEO in the sector and is also a non-executive director of trade association Water UK.  She also received a CBE for services to the water industry in 2020.

Leaving that to one side, the article goes on to reveal that in 2021, (while she chaired Defra’s sustainability council), her firm was hit with a £1.5m fine for illegally discharging 360,000 litres of raw sewage from four sewage treatment plants in Worcestershire. During the 2020-21 financial year it lost more than 400 million litres of drinking water every day due to leaking pipes. In 2019 it was fined a further £500,000 for flooding a park in Birmingham with human waste.

Clive Lewis, the Labour MP for Norwich and a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, told openDemocracy it “was like putting arsonists in charge of a fire safety board”.

Neither Defra nor Severn Trent responded to openDemocracy’s questions about Garfield’s appointment as chair of the council or what her work involves.

A Defra spokesperson said: “The appointment of the Chair and members of the Council for Sustainable Business are agreed by the Environment Secretary at the time.”

The government’s 25 Year Environment Plan sets out its goals for improving the environment and for being the first generation to leave it in a better state than we found it. It details how the government will work with communities and businesses to achieve this. But are they listening to the right people and how much influence do they have in shaping government policy?

You can read the full openDemocracy story (and about the dodgy track record of others on the Council) at: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/defra-council-systainable-business-severn-trent-liv-garfield-sewage-waste/