Unless you have been hiding in the woods to avoid it (!) you will know that George Osborne delivered the Emergency Budget on behalf of the Coalition government earlier this week.
As anticipated, the Budget begins the process of reducing public spending with the Chancellor announcing spending cuts of at least 25% (outside of those ring-fenced) for all Whitehall Departments. In this tough economic climate the Trust believes that creating new native woodland and planting trees is not a luxury. Defra, DECC and their agencies face challenging times ahead as they are tasked with delivering more with less public money. By delivering on so many agendas at once increasing woodland and tree cover offers genuine value for money at a time of enormous pressure on the public finances. We believe that trees and woods are essential as a means of tackling contemporary challenges such as climate change mitigation and adaptation; flooding; preventing wildlife loss; improving public health – both physical and mental – and shaping places where people want to live, work and spend their leisure time.
From an environmental viewpoint the proposals in the Budget confirm pre-existing policies rather than bringing forward anything unexpected. For example, the Budget suggests introducing a carbon price through a reform of the climate change levy in order to provide more certainty and support to investors in green technology – the Treasury and DECC will consult on this by 2011. Further consultations will also be bought forward including one on the creation of a Green Investment Bank after the Comprehensive Spending Review in October, and another on how best to implement the proposal to move from a per person duty on aviation (APD) rather than per plane.
Regional and local government is going to experience significant change in the coming months. The Budget should end the confusion over the future of the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs), having announced that they would all be abolished by the forthcoming Public Bodies Reform Bill and replaced by Local Enterprise Partnerships. A White Paper in the summer will set out the details and show how the Government will:
- Support the creation of strong local enterprise partnerships,
- Consider the most appropriate framework of incentives for local authorities to support growth and,
- Promote the role for a simplified planning consents process in specific areas where there is potential or need for business growth, through use of Local Development Order.
Meanwhile there is some welcome news for charities as the Coalition will continue to explore ways of improving the Gift Aid system and encouraging charitable giving. In addition the Government is going to consult this summer on substantial donors legislation with a view to bringing a Bill before Parliament in the autumn.
In the end the Budget had very few surprises. However, in this tight spending round we need to remember that for all the images of a green and pleasant land, the UK is one of the least wooded countries in Europe and planting rates with broadleaved species have halved in England in the last six years. Now is the time to create new woods and plant trees as a value for money tool that can help deliver on many agendas simultaneously and shape beautiful green landscapes for people to enjoy in the future.
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