|The Staffordshire Environmental Fund|
On 21st June members of the Society were treated to a stimulating talk by John Dutton, the Chief Executive of the Staffordshire Environmental Fund. Although the Fund has been in being since 1996, and distributed over £6 million in grant aid to projects totalling £29 million, the existence of the Fund came as a surprise to many people in the audience. John explained to us that the Staffordshire Environmental Fund was established by the County Council as a consequence of the introduction by the then Conservative Government of the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme. This imposed - and continues to impose - a levy on waste going to landfill sites. Currently for every tonne of waste tipped at landfill sites throughout England and Wales, a tax of £12 has to be paid over and above the cost of actually tipping the waste material. This is rising, at least for the next few years, at a cost of £1 per annum. The aim of the tax is to discourage us from tipping our waste in landfill sites by recycling, minimising or otherwise reducing it.
Over £500 million pounds is raised annually through this tax and, of that total, 20% can be diverted for use in a variety of environmental enhancement and waste minimisation schemes. That money goes to so called 'environmental bodies' like the Staffordshire Environmental Fund from the landfill operator who has collected the money on behalf of HM Government. The operator can then divert the 20% into an environmental body, but only obtains a credit for 90% of the money thus diverted, having to find 10% of the cost themselves.
In short therefore, of the £500 million per annum raised by this scheme, some £90 million can potentially go into the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme for various enhancements but £410 million heads towards the coffers of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He maintains that he uses that to reduce the National Insurance contribution of firms, thus easing the burden on them in promoting economic prosperity. As could be said, he may say that but we couldn't possibly comment!
The Landfill Tax Credit Scheme, John explained, is designed to mitigate the environmental impact of landfill operations on those residents living nearby. There are six objectives laid out by Government which basically deal with the reclamation of derelict land, the improvements of parks, open spaces and other amenity areas, the refurbishment of old buildings of architectural and historic significance, and the promotion of research, development and education projects relating to the sustainable management of waste. Up until recently, all these objectives had equal weight and environmental bodies like the Staffordshire Environmental Fund could distribute the funds which they obtained (in their case from the landfill operator BIFFA in Staffordshire) across all objectives. Recently the Government has reviewed its position and is now encouraging funds like the one in Staffordshire to spend up to 65% of the money they obtain from, in Staffordshire's case, BIFFA on waste management initiatives. This is largely because the Government is under pressure to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill by introducing new waste minimisation recycling and composting initiatives. One way of doing that is to research these initiatives through projects set up via these funds.
There are some 'big players' in the game. BIFFA from its landfill operations in Staffordshire contributes over one million per annum into Staffordshire's fund. The Waste Recycling Environmental Fund, known as WREN, which obtains its funds from a major landfill operator, Waste Recycling Group, disperses over £16 million of grant aid nationally. In all the 16 major funds, largely supported by major operators such as Onyx, SITA and Lafarge Redlands, deal with over 95% of the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme monies. There are, however, a number of other environmental bodies who distribute smaller sums of money, largely based on county areas and they make up the remaining 5% of the total.
John explained the mechanisms whereby the Staffordshire Environmental Fund Board receive applications and distribute the funding. Often they will give less than 100% of the total cost of the scheme, seeking some commitment from the applicant. Quite often their grants are used as matching funding against grants obtained from other sources; thus building up a sizeable pot of money for major schemes.
John ran through a number of schemes that the Staffordshire Environmental Fund had supported. He mentioned the topically current one of Doxey Marshes in Stafford where the Fund is helping to support a range of services, better public access and interpretation, especially for schools, balanced with the need to protect and nurture the wildlife in the area. A similar scheme running jointly with the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust and the National Forest Company is underway at Croxall. The Fund has supported the National Trust at Biddulph Grange in reintroducing the hydroelectric- based water power scheme, which had long fallen into disuse. New clubhouses have been supported for the Stafford Cricket and Hockey Club and the Norton Canes Community Centre. The new village hall at Abbots Bromley has been funded in part by the Staffordshire Fund, as well as assistance to the Ridware Theatre. Lichfield Cathedral has received over £90,000 to help with the reordering of monuments and the creation of new storage areas. In addition, youth environment forums on sustainable waste management have been supported as well as research projects reducing waste streams in the ceramics industry. Those of you who know St John's Church at Shenstone might be interested to learn that the refurbishment there was substantially supported by the Staffordshire Environmental Fund.
John ended on a note of caution. The future of the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme is under review. The Government may well seek to revise its operation, diverting more resources into waste management initiatives, thus reducing the amount available for environmental enhancement schemes. This pressure has come about because of the Government's adherence to the European Landfill Directive, which seeks to substantially reduce the amount of waste going to landfill whilst promoting the recycling and reuse of resources. John asked the audience to consider lobbying our local MP to support the continuance of a valuable environmental enhancement scheme, not only in Staffordshire but nationwide, which had seen over £29 million worth of projects triggered in Staffordshire alone over the last few years.