Governments are often criticised for being short-termist and for operating in silos. These are accusations that can’t be levelled at the new 25-year plan to improve the environment announced today by the Prime Minister.
It contains an array of existing commitments and future aspirations, fully cross-referenced across departments and with all the right nods to devolution and multi-sector working. The overriding challenge is the amount of work that now has to be done to develop the multiple plans, strategies and programmes that will be needed to turn motherhood and apple pie aspiration into decisive and measurable action.
Crucially the plan recognises that our environment will only improve and be better managed in the future if more people of all ages and backgrounds feel more connected with it in the present.
We particularly welcome the aim to engage more young people in decision-making and action on the environment and look forward to playing our part in a 2019 year of action, harnessing the energy and talents of our Groundwork Youth movement. Our work has also demonstrated the power of engaging communities in building flood resilience and promoting water conservation and the plan will provide a strong platform for continuing this work with water companies, catchment partnerships, and local authorities.
Young green leaders
We welcome the additional support being promised to schools to enhance their grounds and ensure pupils benefit from access to nature, particularly in disadvantaged areas. In the last two-years, we have provided 2,500 small grants to schools and know there is much more need and demand for funding as budgets reduce.
We would like to see a stronger commitment from Ofsted in valuing education for sustainable development which will give schools even greater confidence to prioritise experiential learning. We also believe more work is needed to ensure our skills and employment support systems are focused on building a workforce able to meet our promise of an enhanced environmental infrastructure. Agriculture, land management, construction and utilities all have an ageing workforce or rely on EU migrant workers and we need to find a better way of plugging these future skills gaps.
Our work to create better places, improve people’s prospects and promote greener living and working has given us significant insight into the links between volunteering, green infrastructure and wellbeing and we’re encouraged by the Government’s plans for a Natural Environment for Health and Wellbeing programme. However, we’d like to see this commitment go much further with a stronger direction to put health creation at the heart of a long-term strategy to transform the NHS into a natural health service.
Working as a team
The plan recognises the leading role business can play in changing public attitudes and behaviours, developing solutions and unlocking capital for environmental improvement – as well as the responsibilities on business to operate legally, cleanly and ethically. Business communities also need support to do the right thing and we would like to see more emphasis on helping SMEs to improve their resource efficiency, reduce pollution and invest in local environments.
Groundwork was established 35 years ago as an experiment in helping people in disadvantaged areas transform the surroundings and prospects of their communities at a time of economic austerity and social division. The lessons learned from that experiment were that practical, collective action to manage and enhance the environment can be a springboard to improved community cohesion, health, and social mobility.
This 25-year plan provides a solid platform for delivering more of these benefits as long as the proposals are given legislative and regulatory teeth and the commitments to align agendas and organisational priorities release sufficient resources to galvanise action.
Post by Graham Duxbury
Chief Executive of Groundwork UK