The number of public sector staff employed to crack down on pollution and protect the environment has risen by more than 1,000 in the past four years because the Government accepted criticism from MPs, expert bodies and green pressure groups that this sector was badly undermanned.
Now Department of the Environment ministers believe that major economies can be achieved while creating the long-awaited new Environmental Protection Agency. They judge that green issues are sufficiently low on the public agenda for any criticism to be tolerable. The Secretary of State, Michael Howard, and his deputies are more interested in helping hold down public spending and lightening the burden of regulation on industry.
Some of the departing employees will move into the private sector as services are contracted out, but 1,000 or more of the jobs will be lost completely.
The Environmental Protection Agency, promised by John Major before the election, will combine the National Rivers Authority (NRA), HM Inspectorate of Pollution, and the waste-disposal regulators of local councils; legislation is likely in the next parliamentary session.
Mr Howard believe that a fifth of the 10,000 jobs these organisations account for, must go. The bulk of the losses will be in the NRA, the water pollution watchdog. At its formation in 1989 the NRA employed 6,500; today the workforce stands at just over 8,000. There is now a freeze on vacancies and managers are 'market testing' to find out which tasks can be done more cheaply on contract.
There is scope for hundreds of extra job cuts in centralising some functions carried out by each of the NRA's 10 regions. Yet the NRA's wide-ranging responsibilities mean it must have a strong local presence to do its job. It covers flood protection, groundwater and water resources, river navigation and fisheries as well as water pollution - not only inshore but also three miles out to sea.
HM Inspectorate of Pollution employed 133 when it was formed in 1987 and 343 now. Its workforce is unlikely to be cut. More vulnerable are the waste-disposal regulation officers of nearly 100 councils in England and Wales, who are to be absorbed into the new agency. There are about 2,000 staff working for these councils.
Homes could be built with almost no insulation under new rules proposed by the Department of the Environment - because British builders lack the skills to install it properly, writes Jay Thompson.
Under draft building regulations, the energy efficiency of components such as boilers and double glazing can be 'traded off' against the basic structure. The Royal Institute of British Architects says that some buildings could be put up with no insulation at all. Almost a third of Britain's total energy consumption is used in homes, mostly for heating, at an annual cost of pounds 12bn.
The rules would also make it harder to meet the Government's promise to cut carbon-based emissions, which contribute to global warming, by 500 million tons by the year 2000.
Professor Peter Smith, of the RIBA's environment and energy committee, called the new rules a regression to the Seventies. But the DoE's ability to set tough standards has been hit by a shortage of skilled labour.
A spokesman for the department said the rules had to be cost effective for builders but should not increase the risks that come with badly installed insulation.