Taxpayer's carbon not just their cash is being spent by the government

The waste incinerator at Great Blakenham. Photograph Simon Parker

The waste incinerator at Great Blakenham, Suffolk which is run in partnership with Suffolk County Council. - Credit: Simon Parker/Archant

For many people in this country, these are straitened times. 

While it may not be on the front page of every newspaper, nor leading every television news bulletin, the cost of living is rapidly rising.  

Energy costs are spiralling. Food is becoming unaffordable for some. And the average monthly rent in the country – excluding the anomaly that is the capital – has risen by almost 10% in just three months. 

But the stories that have hit the headlines this week tell a different story. 

One of arguably wasteful spending. 

Yesterday the Independent reported that South West Norfolk MP and foreign secretary Liz Truss had chartered a private jet to Australia as part of a state trip last week. At a cost of £500,000 to the taxpayer. 

The Foreign Office said the private plane was used to allow the trip’s delegation to travel together and have private discussions on sensitive security matters, and that everything was signed off as being within the ministerial code. 

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Nevertheless, it must be seen as flying in the face of a policy paper called Back to Black which Ms Truss co-authored in 2009. 

She, along with others, outlined how: “Every public sector worker should feel personal responsibility for the money they spend and the money they save. 

“They should spend taxpayers’ money with at least the care they would give to their own. 

“This change of mindset would be reflected in everyday changes such as travelling by economy rather than business class, to larger scale changes around focusing on value for money. 

“It should start at the very top with MPs reviewing the expenses they have become accustomed to claiming and filter down throughout the entire sector.” 

Whatever the merits of Ms Truss’ reasoning for the private plane, it is hardly setting an example that will “filter down”. 

Foreign Office officials went on to say that all information on the trip would be set out in regular transparency data. 

This can only be a good thing.  

But one aspect of this trip is likely to neglected by said data: the impact on the climate. 

It is not only people’s purses which are under pressure, but the planet as well. 

And one is sure to knock on to the other. 

Research by the Swiss Re Institute warns that if global temperatures were to rise by 3.2C – a worst case scenario – the wealth of the world would take a dive by 20%. 

Investors increasing penchant for sustainable stocks and shares show people are starting to vote with their wallets when it comes to climate change. 

In response, businesses and public bodies are more commonly publishing carbon budgets alongside their financial budgets. 

Suffolk County Council is among them. It has taken the decision to publish an account of the carbon produced by all of its activities. 

The carbon budget is set to be produced each year at the same time as the financial budget going forward.  

But, council bosses have warned, it will be “incredibly challenging to have an exact figure for every last gram of CO2 that the council emits”. 

Despite this, it still puts the East Anglian council among the leaders in this field. 

And it may have a very real-world impact.   

All over the country, groups are publishing outlandish targets for when they will hit certain green milestones.  

Some of these are known to be hopelessly realistic when they are set and are just used to produce a soundbite to pull the wool over people’s eyes.  

But there is no formal reporting mechanism across the country as a whole. 

Without honest and transparent measures of the impact of everything that goes on around us, there is little hope of holding these organisations to account. 

While the focus is, quite rightly, on bringing people’s finances back into the black, we must have one eye on the future and on turning to green. 

Because if we don’t, we’ll all be poorer for it.