Scottish ministers ‘jeopardising the future’ by cutting environmental budgets, says ex quango boss

Professor James Curran called for a change of approach from the Scottish Government
Loch Lomond. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty ImagesLoch Lomond. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Loch Lomond. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The Scottish Government is "jeopardising the future of all who live here" by slashing environmental budgets, a former quango boss has warned.

Professor James Curran, who was previously chief executive of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), called for a change of approach from ministers.

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He said Sepa and NatureScot – formerly Scottish Natural Heritage – had both suffered “massive real-terms cuts” since 2010, of 26 per cent and 40 per cent respectively.

Meanwhile, the publicly-funded environmental research budget had been slashed by 55 per cent over the same period, he said.

Writing in Scotland on Sunday, Prof Curran said: “Whichever way you look at it, Scotland is short-changing its environment, as well as the businesses which depend on it, while undermining one of our greatest assets and jeopardising the future of all who live here.”

He said Scotland spends proportionately less than its neighbours on the environment, despite pledges to maintain or exceed European environmental standards.

"Total spending on environmental services comes to around 0.6 per cent of Scotland’s GDP, only 80 per cent of the European average, and less than half of the Netherlands, in caring for our precious environment,” he added.

Prof Curran was chief executive of Sepa from 2012 till 2015, and was part of the team that established the quango in 1996.

Labour MSP Sarah Boyack said his comments “should be ringing alarm bells to everyone in government”, adding: “Not only is the SNP struggling to meet its net zero targets, it is also failing to protect our natural environment.”

Rachael Hamilton, the Tory spokeswoman for rural affairs, said: “Professor Curran is right to point out that the SNP-Green government’s rhetoric on the environment is overblown, while their delivery has been dismal.

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“In particular, Scotland’s rural communities have been neglected throughout their time in office, with many of their priorities – and the crucial elements of environmental safeguarding that they understand – being actively undermined by their policies."

Scottish Liberal Democrat climate spokesman Liam McArthur said: “These damning comments expose the abject failure of both the SNP and Greens to address Scotland's nature emergency.

“Scotland is a beautiful country and we should be investing in its natural assets. Instead we’ve seen action delayed, budgets cut and the government-owned water company dumping sewage in our rivers on an industrial scale.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The 2023-24 Budget increased funding for our environmental regulators NatureScot and Scottish Environment Protection Agency by £18 million, recognising the pivotal role they play to protect, restore and value nature, and maintain a safe, healthy and sustainable environment for the people of Scotland.

“The Scottish Government is already investing in nature at scale – with £65 million in the nature restoration fund and £250 million peatland restoration alone.

“While budgets have been constrained over the past decade due to UK budget cuts, we have worked hard to provide our environment agencies with the necessary resources to fulfil their statutory functions and enabled them to increase revenue through environmental charges.

“At the same time, we have expanded the range and number of agencies working in this area, including the Scottish Land Commission, Crown Estate Scotland, Forestry and Land Scotland and Scottish Forestry.”



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