Twelve new Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs) today learn that they will share £7.5 million of Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) funding over the next three years. The scheme only applies to England but already Stuart Housden, RSPB Director for Scotland has welcomed the scheme on twitter (@StuartHousden: This is an idea the rest of the UK should consider: focussed action works, twitter, 27.2.2012). Congratulations to the successful 12; commiserations to the other 64 and in particular to Big Chalk, Hampshire Farmers and Lee Catchment who made it to the final final 15 but weren’t in the eventual winning line-up.
But at what cost and to what benefit?
- It’s likely that the total cost of the 76 initial applications to the consortiums that put them together was in the order of £456,000. (Chasing £7.5 million funding remember)
- So the successful 12 bids accounted for c. £72,000 of this, while the remaining unsuccessful bids cost a total of £384,000. It’s to be hoped that some other benefits will result from the abortive work!
- NIA’s are a flagship policy of the Natural Environment White Paper published last year, so they seem to be important.
- Although it’s not easy to gauge, the total area covered by the 12 successful bids seems to be in the order of 63,880 hectares (about 158,000 acres).
- That’s less than one half of one percent of England’s land area of about 130,400 sq km.
- Put that another way: 99+% of England is not covered by a ‘Flagship Policy’. This flagship policy ‘may’ be recognised in planning policy – but is an extension of planning policy, not a new policy according to Defra.
- And comes at a cost of about £117/hectare (but offset against this the wasted expenditure on failed bids of £6 per successful hectare).
- Scaling this up to half England’s land area (reasonable for a ‘flagship policy’?) would imply a cost of £750 million.
Sir John Lawton, chair of the judging panel, commented on the difficulties facing the selectors:
“Never in all that time [40 years – Sir John’s career in the environment] have I seen the sort of creativity, partnership working and sheer enthusiasm that the NIA has released on consortia that want to deliver more effective conservation for England’s wonderful wildlife in their area. Choosing 12 winners from 76 bids was an awfully difficult task ….”
So let’s hope the deflation of the losers doesn’t come at too great a cost to all that creativity and sheer enthusiasm. But it has come at a cost to ‘Big Society’ because for every winner there have been 5 losers. Their wasted expenditure consists at least in part of volunteer time, charity time, member organisation time and inputs by various government and quasi-government agencies. But not, officially at least, government funding – so the cost hasn’t fallen on we poor taxpayers. But then it has, hasn’t it, because of the subscriptions we have paid to various organisations involved and the time our fellows have given voluntarily to this process? So what value for money in the Big Society here, Caroline Spelman and David Cameron?
The Devilish Details:
- The NIA scheme opened for bids last July. Seventy-six initial bids were initially whittled down to 20 applications which went through to a second stage. Of these 20, 15 were interviewed for the final cut of 12 successful applications (see links below for further details).
- Defra plans to spend £7.5 million on the NIA scheme from 2012 to 2015.
- At about 63,880 ha (author’s estimate from Natural England press release – link below), this equates to £117/ha (£47/acre).
- The total area of England is about 130,400 sq km (and 1 sq km = 100 ha), so the NIA’s cover 4.8% of England.
- The estimate for the cost of the NIA bids was worked up by assuming 30 working days per bid at a daily cost of £200, ie £6,000 per bid x 76 bids = £456,000. Even at 20 days at the National Minimum Wage (+20% for employer overheads) the cost per bid would be nearly £1,200. (author’s own estimates). In reality, £6,000 is probably a very conservative estimate if all the time was carefully recorded and costed.
Learn more (links):
Final shortlist of 15 (successful 12 in bold):
Birmingham and Black Country
Greater Thames Marshes (airport permitting?)
Marlborough Downs (farmer led)
Marches Meres and Mosses
South Downs Way
See link above for more information about each of the successful bids.