EEDA urged to set

THE East of England Development Agency's management needs to set “a stronger example” on environmental issues and put more resources behind them, according to a new report.

THE East of England Development Agency's management needs to set “a stronger example” on environmental issues and put more resources behind them, according to a new report.

The East of England's Regional Assembly's scrutiny review group has set out 32 recommendations for EEDA and its partners to improve their role in leading the region on environmental and sustainability issues.

EEDA has welcomed the findings, saying that sustainable development was “right at the top” of its agenda, and that it had already started to put measures in place to improve its performance.

In its report, due to be considered by EERA's executive committee on Thursday , the scrutiny group says EEDA needs to be more transparent in how it helps firms protect the environment, and needs to lead by example.

“EEDA needs champions at senior executive level within the organisation to ensure that sustainable development issues are understood and acted on throughout,” it says.

“This will require a stronger example to be set from the EEDA senior management team in both their decision-making and corporate behaviour.”

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It also calls for EEDA to “significantly increase” the amount of its own resources in terms of staffing and funding it directs towards the Regional Economic Strategy goal of making the region “an exemplar for the efficient use of resources”.

This would more accurately reflect “the importance of these issues to the future of the east of England economy”, it argues.

“The team working directly on environmental matters consists of just three permanent staff (out of approximately 200) and several seconded or hosted staff from other organisations. Though their work is highly praised, it is widely felt that EEDA should allocate more resources in this area to adequately reflect its importance,” the group says.

It praises the way the organisation has spent its Business Resource Efficiency and Waste programme, which is funded through landfill tax revenue, and the new projects which have evolved from it, such as ReMade, focusing on new uses for waste products, and East Ex, a regional waste exchange mechanism.

But it says that many of those in receipt of EEDA funds “have not had such a positive experience”.

“The funding process is viewed as lacking in transparency and applicants are entirely dependent on advice from EEDA staff to advise on how best to present bids and guide them through EEDA's committee structures,” it says.

“Personal contacts within EEDA are therefore particularly important in achieving a successful bid.”

With an increasing number of delivery organisations, EEDA will need to help businesses and other organisations through “the maze” of available advice and support, it says.

Setting up Renewables East in 2003 was EEDA's “most significant act” in terms of capturing the advantages of renewable energy in the region and delivering against the low carbon agenda, and “despite some problems in agreeing funding and business planning processes with EEDA, Renewables East has had considerable success”, it says.

There was “considerable potential” for further growth in the environmental goods and services sector, particularly in environmental consultancy, renewable energy and clean technologies, but support for the sector is “patchy” and there remain skills gaps, it says.

EEDA is involved in a “wide variety of activity” on sustainable development, but “unfortunately, this activity is not consistently supported by EEDA's own corporate performance,” it says.

A consultants' study revealed “significant gaps” in terms of leadership, awareness of staff and integration of the principles of sustainable development into EEDA's internal processes, the report states.

EEDA chair Richard Ellis welcomed the findings of EERA's scrutiny review and said that even before it was produced, they had begun to put measures in place to improve the way they operated, and would continue to do so.

Inroads had been made in transparency on funding applications, and EEDA has recruited an independent agency to review the appraisal process, he said.

EEDA now had a Sustainable Development Steering Group, co-chaired by its chief executive David Marlow, and board member Paul Burall, which had agreed a range of steps, including calculating EEDA's carbon footprint and agreeing to become 'carbon neutral' by 2010, he said.

EEDA now had the go-ahead to employ further staff on its environment team, he added.

“Sustainable development is right at the top of EEDA's agenda,” he said.

“Not only are we determined to help the region meet and exceed its targets, but also we will be the first regional development agency to develop an environmental management system and achieve Eco-Management and Audit Scheme accreditation.”