Green regulator spends more time in air than going after polluters. SCOTLAND’S ‘guardian of the environmental’ spends more time in the air on overseas trips and forking out public cash for junkets & air travel than going after polluters & construction companies caught dumping highly contaminated material across sites including housing estates and farmland across Scotland.
Records obtained via Freedom of Information reveal the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) spent £53k in just one year on overseas air travel and expenses associated with the trips, on destinations all across the globe for ‘some’ of the agency’s 1,200 staff.
Additional records disclosed to a media investigation, and now published in this article include a lengthy hospitality register, with entries detailing dinners and events on offer from industries, companies and lobby groups often accused of damaging the environment such as Whisky distilleries.
SEPA staff also attended dinner & hospitality events provided by an alcohol industry lobby group – the Scotch Whisky Association – who bitterly fought against the Scottish Government’s plans for minimum alcohol pricing.
While SEPA staff were being wined, dined & given hospitality by Whisky producers, the green watchdog condemned seven Scotch whisky distilleries for their failure to meet pollution guidelines.
SEPA – Documents reveal Overseas flights & expenses: SEPA - Overseas Expenses 2011 to 2016
SEPA – Documents reveal Gifts & Hospitality: SEPA - Gifts & Hospitality Register 2011-2016
A report in the Sunday Herald revealed : Diageo, the £11 billion drinks giant and world-leading whisky producer, has admitted breaching seven out of eight of its environmental targets to cut pollution and waste.
One of Diageo’s most polluting plants - with some of the highest emissions of any industrial site in Scotland - is the Cameronbridge grain distillery at Leven in Fife. The plant’s carbon dioxide pollution has risen in recent years to a record high.
SEPA’s latest pollution inventory shows that the distillery belched out 134,211 tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2013. Emissions were the highest they had been for ten years, rising every year from 2009 to 2013.
The high mileage hospitality ridden environmental regulator once came under the responsibility of former Environment Minister, Paul Wheelhouse MSP.
Mr Wheelhouse, who later moved to a legal affairs portfolio, attended an evidence session at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee. Mr Wheelhouse went onto claim judges should not declare their interests claim judges should not declare their interests because SEPA staff had allegedly faced threats from gangsters.
However, an investigation by the Sunday Herald newspaper debunked the gangster claims by Wheelhouse – after documents passed to journalists revealed no instances of gangster threats, although one SEPA official had faced a farm gate being slammed shut.
SEPA also faced widespread criticism in the media after environmental journalist Rob Edwards revealed the Scottish Environment Protection Agency had kept the locations of 87 polluters a secret, enabling mistakes to be covered up.
In an assessment of environmental performances for 2013, SEPA had refused to identify 1,187 water suppliers and 287 sites handling radioactive materials "for reasons of national security". But it has rated 83 of the water suppliers and four of the radioactive sites as “poor” or “very poor”.
An ongoing media investigation into the dumping of contaminated waste by Advance Construction Ltd in areas covered by North Lanarkshire Council, has established the Scottish Environment Protection Agency appears to have turned a blind eye to multiple instances of fly tipping and dumping by a variety of companies including Advance.
Papers passed to journalists appear to include warning letters from SEPA on the dumping of material by the firm, yet no action appears to have been taken.
The Scottish Sun on Sunday reports on expenses junkets, & overseas trips of SEPA:
SEPA racks up 420,000 miles in jets in 3 years: Staff travel same as journey to moon and back
Exclusive By RUSSELL FINDLAY Scottish Sun 05 April 2015
JETSETTING civil servants racked up 420,000 air miles in just three years flying on international jaunts to discuss green issues.
Scottish Environment Protection Agency staff took hundreds of trips to destinations like Nairobi in Kenya, Dubai, Thailand, New York and Canada — often to talk about climate change.
And they flew to European conferences held in the likes of Paris, Dublin, Rome, Malta and Copenhagen — covering enough ground to fly to the Moon or 17 times around the earth.
Campaigners blasted the taxpayer funded quango for its globetrotting. Green MSP Alison Johnstone, far right, said: "Sepa do an important job but I'd urge them to think carefully about whether such extensive air travel is necessary to carry out their work.
"I'd be interested to see a breakdown of what these flights were for. "Government agencies should be leading by example if they're serious about reducing transport emissions."
Staff travelled to pow-wows such as the "Strategic meeting towards an enhanced coordination of environmental crime prosecutions across the EU" in Amsterdam, and the European Reservoir Safety Regulation forum in Trondheim, Norway.
Eben Wilson, of Taxpayer Scotland, said: "Sepa is finding things to do abroad when it should focus on the local environment in Scotland.
"Overseas jollies which may seem valuable to Sepa really don't gel with what the public think environmental protection should be about."
The green watchdog has a £40million annual budget for carrying out duties including monitoring of air and water, enforcing green regulations on businesses and issuing flood warnings.
The agency's 1,200 staff are led by outgoing £110,000-a-year chief exec James Curran, below left.
Its annual statement says: "It is our duty as an agency promoting low carbon growth to set a good example. "We have continued to look for ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our business travel.
"Our success in reducing the use of domestic flights by 96 per cent since 2006 was praised during the year in a report by Transform Scotland."
But the report does not mention international flights taken between April 2011 and March 2014 uncovered by The Scottish Sun.
Sepa insisted the mileage was only 352,000 and added: "In order to protect the wider environment and tackle environmental crime, staff have to work with other countries.
"Our experience and expertise are held in high regard internationally.
"Overseas travel is authorised by senior management and the decision balances environmental benefits of the work with the impact of travel."
and all for the environment DUBLIN - Common Implementation Strategy (CIS) Working Group C - WFD Groundwater AMSTERDAM - Strategic Meeting "Towards an enhanced coordination of environmental crime prosecutions across the EU: the role of Eurojust" PARIS - Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Interest Group of NEPA (CCSIG) MALTA - 5th IMPEL conference on implementation and enforcement of environmental legislation: "Working together to improve and innovate" COPENHAGEN - Citizen Science Workshop GOTHENBURG - Scotland/Sweden District Heating Mission NAIROBI - Interpol Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Committee (ECEC) TRONDHEIM - European Reservoir
SEPA: Junket ridden agency puts freebies before environment
In material published on their website, SEPA claims to be a “high performance organisation”
The regulator states: “We will continue to transform our approach to environmental protection, with an aspiration of delivering world- leading services for the people of Scotland. This will be enabled, in part, by the Regulatory Reform (Scotland) Act and we will continue to work closely with the Scottish Government on regulatory reform. We will be making some significant improvements to how we set ourselves up to deliver our services, informed by work we have carried out on organisational design. This will help us to improve delivery and provide better value for money.”
“We will continue to improve our own business processes, so that our services are recognised as excellent. Our new digital strategy will ensure that technology helps us improve our customers’ experience. We will also help communities to participate in the key decisions that affect them.”
“Our people are at the heart of our success as their knowledge and expertise is our greatest asset. Our goal is to transform into an organisation that people are clamouring to work for. We value diversity in our workforce as it brings a range of talents and perspectives. Over the next few years our key focus will be on developing our staff to create an organisation that lives our six Organisational Characteristics.”
“As we change our ways of working, our estate needs to be flexible; as we modernise our estate we will continue to provide the best working environment we can for our staff and we will seek to share our buildings with partners wherever possible.”
SEPA priorities for this year
• Enabling delivery of high quality, consistent and customer-focused services
• Developing and retaining high performance people
SEPA ON CLIMATE CHANGE, NO MENTION OF JUNKETS:
Further promotional material on the SEPA website states: “Scotland is preparing for a sustainable future and is taking steps to limit climate change Society on earth has progressed to the point where we live as if we had three to four planets to exploit. We don’t have three to four planets; we have one planet with a growing population and depleting resources. For everyone to be able to enjoy a good standard of living, now and in the future, we need to ensure that we do not develop in ways that destroy our ecosystems, because that will undermine our potential for future development.”
“The three pillars of sustainable development are the economy, society and the environment. The role of a 21st century environment protection agency is to find ways to advance the goals of all three at the same time. To achieve this we will increase our engagement with businesses and communities to understand their goals, and to show them how focusing on sustainable development can help them achieve those goals. We want to play our part in helping communities see the environment as an opportunity to create social and economic success. We also want to work with our partners to help businesses realise the benefits of taking an approach that reduces carbon, water use,materials use, and waste production.”
“Through our leadership role, we will do everything in our power to help Scotland address climate change to ensure its environment, economy and communities flourish. Our advice and regulatory activity is based on sound scientific evidence allowing us to help Scotland both reduce and adapt to the effects of climate change. Our work will help Scotland achieve its ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, and support the transition to a low carbon,resilient and sustainable Scotland.”
SEPA priorities this year
• Acting to combat climate change
• Championing sustainable resource use
Have you dealt with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency? Tells us about it in confidence to firstname.lastname@example.org