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Gov pays Greens to lobby it, says report

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Government is handing over far too much of our hard-earned dosh to environmental campaigners, who then use the money to further distort government policy in favour of the interests and ideological preoccupations of narrow political elites.

That is the conclusion of a report – Taxpayer Funded Environmentalism (pdf) - published this week by the Taxpayers’ Alliance. The report includes information gleaned from Freedom of Information requests, scrutiny of environmental organisations' annual accounts in the UK, and from a summary of requests for environmental funding compiled by the EU.

The report suggests a total of £10.1m was given in 2009-10 to environmental groups whose principal aim was lobbying for further change.

This total breaks down into £2.5m from various UK councils, departments and quangos, and a further £7.6m in European Commission grants to environmental NGOs.

While this may seem to be exceedingly small beer when compared to total government spending, the Taxpayers’ Alliance are keen to point out that the central issue here is one of principle.

Organisations such as Greenpeace, for example, are careful not to take government money in order to prevent any conflict of interest. But those named in this report – groups such as Avalon and Brighton Peace and Environment Centre, through to bigger fish like the WWF and Friends of the Earth, Global Action Plan and the Green Alliance – are less scrupulous.

Besides, the true comparison ought not to be government spending, but the sums of money raised by comparable politically motivated pressure groups. On that basis, money passed to lobbyists is highly significant, representing a level of funding that many groups would be unable to raise on their own – and without which they would be unable to continue to function.

The Taxpayers’ Alliance also argues that the sums highlighted are under-estimates in two ways. First, it has omitted study groups and organisations that actually appear to deliver some tangible output for government sums received. However, some of these organisations may also be using some of this money for lobbying purposes. The estimates are therefore on the conservative side.

Second, the Alliance points out that some of the policies lobbied for are several orders of magnitude more expensive than the money dished out in the first instance. As example of this last tendency, they cite the Climate Change Act 2008, which was heavily lobbied for by environmental groups and which government expects to cost between £324bn and £404bn.

As argument goes, this issue is up there with funding for political parties. A great deal of the lobbying that goes on in the UK today would not go on if the government did not pay for it.

Government funding of lobby groups, according to the Taxpayers’ Alliance, "slows adjustments in the direction of policy in reaction to new evidence or circumstances", "increases political apathy among the public" and "forces taxpayers to fund views they may seriously disagree with".

As Emma Boon, a spokeswoman for the Alliance, told us: "Some of these groups are getting hundreds of thousands of pounds in taxpayers’ money each year. They are campaigning for more green taxes and regulation that could push up energy bills – both of which will hit ordinary families."

It is clear that there is presently some momentum within the Coalition, given added weight by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles, to stop public bodies under his department’s remit as well as local authorities from hiring lobbyists at taxpayers’ expense.

Matthew Spencer, director of the Green Alliance, said: "Environmental risk is the greatest long-term risk to the UK economy, so it would be irresponsible if the government wasn't funding solutions to climate change and resource depletion. My concern is the UK is cutting back on much of the environmental policy thinking on energy and resource efficiency that would save taxpayers money."

A spokeswoman for Global Action Plan said: "David Cameron has identified that one of the most efficient ways to hit legally binding government targets in respect of the environment is through funding third sector organisations and charities."

The sums are dwarfed by the €66 million the EU pays out to green groups to lobby itself. An NGO can have 70 per cent of its income paid for by the EU.

Nine out of 10 Green NGOs take the cash, and FoE Europe increased its funding by 325 per cent over a decade, thanks to European taxpayers. ®

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