It’s hard to remember a budget in recent memory that hasn’t united environmentalists in despair at the paucity of action to support the drive to net-zero. Jeremy Hunt’s first budget as chancellor didn’t eschew green policies entirely – there was support for new carbon capture and storage and nuclear projects – but taken as a whole campaigners viewed it as yet another missed opportunity. "This budget hasn’t come close to delivering on our legally binding climate and nature goals,” said Kate Norgrove, WWF’s executive director of advocacy and campaigns. “We need to see policies that drive down emissions, restore nature and provide meaningful support for the public in the cost-of-living crisis.”
Perhaps the government is saving all of its green zingers for its revised net-zero strategy which is required by law to be updated later this month following a successful legal challenge by Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and Good Law Project. Indeed, the most impactful net-zero policy contained in the budget was arguably not an environmental policy at all but the announcement of a move to full capital expensing from April 1st which will allow businesses to deduct the cost of any eligible investment they make from their corporation tax bill straight away, rather than over several years. Chris Stark, chief executive of the Climate Change Committee, wrote on Twitter that “Expensing capex should really improve the economics of all sorts of net-zero projects (typically high capex, followed by opex savings).”
The move also won praise from business groups. "From a food and drink business point of view, it’s good to see the announcement of full expensing – this is a welcome boost to businesses investing in technology across our sector, and supports increased productivity,” said Food and Drink Federation chief executive Karen Betts.
For the hospitality sector, there was mixed news on two of the biggest challenges faced by businesses – energy and labour. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls praised reforms to childcare and measures to help the over 50s rejoin the workforce as “significant in incentivising people back into work and hopefully alleviating crippling labour shortages”. However, Nicholls expressed disappointment at the lack of new help for businesses who face soaring energy bills when current government support ends in April. “It remains the case that we need to see urgent action on the market failures identified by Ofgem in its non-domestic review update yesterday. The current timeline of further action by the summer is not good enough,” she said.
Pubs were given a boost with an increase in draught relief for beer and cider. Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, described the alcohol duty reform as “positive”, however she reiterated Nicholl’s concerns over the wider headwinds facing operators. “Measures introduced today won’t rebalance the catastrophic impact soaring inflation and unfair energy contracts are having on both pubs and the breweries that supply them,” McClarkin noted.
If the glass was somewhat full for pub operators it was entirely empty for those working in food redistribution. A fortnight ago, over 1,000 charities called on the government to provide new funding to prevent surplus food from going to waste. No support was forthcoming, prompting Fareshare chief executive Lindsay Boswell to condemn “a missed opportunity to tackle the staggering amount of food going to waste on our farms and factories while supporting the millions of people being forced into food insecurity in the UK”.
The UK government marked last week’s food waste action week by joining the UN coalition on ‘food is never waste’, whose goal is to halve food waste by 2030. Defra said the move “cements the UK’s place as a global leader on tackling food waste”; but with UK households throwing away approximately 4.5 million tonnes of edible food every year, according to Wrap, this is no time for ministers to be resting on their laurels.
And finally to news of a fresh development in the fast-paced world of eco-labelling. Foundation Earth this week published a new method to assess the environmental impact of food and drink products following what it described as “an intensive year-long research and development programme”. The new method proposes an improved version of the European Commission’s product environmental footprint (PEF), which Foundation Earth said represents “the closest yet to an agreed standard”. It said its new life cycle assessment-based method would allow for the comparison between different food chains producing the same type of food.
Efforts to harmonise the methodologies behind eco-labels was a key theme explored in Footprint’s new report, ‘A transparent future for foodservice’.