Gummer's energy cuts go up in smoke

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The Independent Online
Whitehall mandarins who burn the midnight oil are failing to meet the Government's targets for improving energy efficiency in ministerial offices.

The worst offenders are the Department of Health, under Stephen Dorrell, and the Department for Education and Employment, run by Gillian Shephard.

John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, set his colleagues a target of reducing energy use by 15 per cent in 1990. But according to the latest figures, the Department of Health's energy efficiency rating went down by 54 per cent and the energy performance by the Department for Education and Employment fell by 85 per cent.

Mr Gummer had reason to feel self-satisfied with his own department's achievement. It managed a 16 per cent improvement, in spite of occupying what are regarded as the "grottiest" offices in Whitehall, the triple tower block at Marsham Street.

Civil servants yesterday said the Department of Health had moved "from a large number of naturally ventilated buildings to five, densely-occupied, mainly air-conditioned buildings". This saved on rent but energy costs had shot up, officials said.

However, this explanation is hard to swallow. The Department of Health moved into refurbished offices with a listed facade in Whitehall after vacating a concrete multi-storey office block at the Elephant and Castle called Alexander Fleming House by the dead architect, Erno Goldfinger. The figures show the Depart of Health saved on fossil fuel, but its electricity consumption soared by 112 per cent in 1994-5 and by 84 per cent in 1995- 6.

Electricity consumption by the Department for Education rose by 122 per cent and 104 per cent in the same years. Energy costs were 85 per cent up for Education, and 54 per cent up for Health. Their carbon dioxide emissions also increased.

But there was sufficient progress across the rest of the Government's offices for environment ministers to claim a success. They are asking departments to cut energy use by 20 per cent by 2000.

Robert Jones, environment minister, said: "There have been greater pressures on electricity use, resulting in particular from the greater use of IT equipment. Some very large increases in electricity usage are due to moving a dominant HQ building from naturally ventilated premises to air-conditioned ones."