Fifty shades of green

THE LATEST update on the ‘greening government’ targets show Whitehall doing well overall but with big differences between ministries’ performance. 

Foodservice Footprint F28-4-5-300x300 Fifty shades of green Features Features  The Guardian The Department of Health Oliver Letwin Norman Baker Ministry of Justice Ministry of Education Jim Paice Greening Government Commitments GBS DEFRA














The Guardian website has a rather nice “green-o-meter” tracking the government’s progress against its greenest government ever claims. In November 2013, the latest entry, the scale had hit rock bottom (“greenest never”) following the prime minister’s reported wish to cut the “green crap”. At the turn of the year it might have crept up a little, with the publication of the “Greening Government Commitments” report for 2012-13 – had the report been publicised.


The 60-page update on how the coalition is faring on issues such as reducing waste, cutting emissions and flying less has been tucked away on the DEFRA website. The lead ministers, Norman Baker (Home Office minister) and Oliver Letwin (government policy minister), point to “rapid progress on waste and water targets” with cuts of 15% and 19% respectively. Emissions also continue their downward trajectory with a 14% cut since 2009-10. In 2011-12 it was already at 12% so there’s a long way to go to meet the 25% target by the next election.


What is clear from the report is that the government estate is – slightly – greener than it was. However, this masks a wild variation in inter-departmental performance, and nowhere more so than in procurement of food and catering services. Footprint has been following the government buying standards (GBS) for some years now, but this is the first time detailed data has been published.


Of the £142.5m spent, almost £117m met GBS (about 82%). This doesn’t include the Department of Culture, Media and Sport or the Treasury, which didn’t supply data (though the latter claims its facilities management company is meeting the standards). The data is skewed by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), which spent £62.5m on food, all of which met GBS. Remove that department from the equation and just 65% of food met GBS, demonstrating the diversity of commitment.


Of the big buyers, DEFRA, the lead department for the standards, did well (though declined to comment on how); likewise the Ministry of Defence. But look beyond those and the results are more disappointing. The Department of Health met GBS for just 44% of its food; this doesn’t include hospitals, which have been encouraged to follow central government’s lead to meet GBS.


The Department for Education has similar ambitions for schools (also not covered by GBS) and yet none of the food it buys met the standards. Where does this leave the caterers that supply schools and which have been encouraged to follow GBS voluntarily within ever-tightening budgets? Should they be following the MoJ’s lead rather than their own central department?


A spokeswoman for the MoJ said its procurement strategy was, like all departments, based on “value for money for the taxpayer. But we also want to make sure that what we deliver is sustainable.” That’s what GBS, launched in September 2011, set out to do. “This is the delivery of a government promise to ensure that we do not use taxpayers’ money to undermine our own farmers’ high standards of production. By doing so, we’re practising what we preach and challenging the rest of the public sector to follow,” said the then farm minister, Jim Paice, at the time.


Much like the prime minister, the claims were bold, but action and enforcement have arguably been meek, even in the face of what campaigners see as watered-down GBS. Compass, one of the biggest suppliers of catering services to government, has said in the past that “while the approach to procurement remains voluntary, change will not be made”. For some departments, at least, that is very much the case.


Departmental Key

BIS – Business, Industry and Skills

CO – Cabinet Office

DCLG – Communities & Local Government decc – Energy & Climate Change

DEFRA – Environment, Food & Rural Affairs dfe – Education

DFID – International Development

DFT – Transport

DH – Health

DWP – Work & Pensions

UKEF – Export Finance

FCO – Foreign and Commonwealth

FSA – Food Standards Agency

HMRC – Revenue & Customs

HO – Home Office

LOD – Law Officers

MOD – Defence

MOJ – Justice

ONS – National Statistics