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Government failing to address “deadly issue” of air pollution

The Public Accounts Committee has called for a new approach to tackling poor air quality.

By Zoë Grünewald

MPs have called on the government to step up and address the “potentially deadly issue” of dangerous air pollution in the UK. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has published a report today (26 October) on tackling air quality breaches, which finds that there is not enough being done by local or national government to address air quality issues and provide people with enough support to take care of their own health.

What does the report say?

The committee has criticised the government’s current approach to tackling low air quality. It warns that local residents are “left in the dark” about dangerous pollution because it is too difficult to find vital information about air quality in their neighbourhoods. The committee said that this lack of knowledge was affecting the public’s ability to take action to protect themselves.

The report says that “tackling local air quality issues requires local and national government to work together” but the “government has not always got the balance of this partnership right”. The committee points to a “lack of coordinated central communications”, which means that local authorities are not adequately supported by a “strong national message”. As such, many people affected by air pollution are not only unable to adapt their behaviour but may be unresponsive to air quality measures which they see as “intrusive” and potentially unnecessary.

The committee’s MPs said that the government does not seem to know how much money is being spent on addressing air quality across all departments, which reduces transparency, potentially hinders attempts to reduce air-quality risks “in a cost-effective manner” and makes it more difficult for the government to “reprioritise when necessary and judge value for money”.

Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the committee, said: “Government doesn’t actually know how much public money is being spent addressing air quality across all departments – which does not suggest the integrated approach necessary to tackle this potentially deadly issue.”

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What does the report recommend?

The committee has recommended that the government take action including setting out a timetable for improving the accessibility of public information about local air quality, and reviewing its approach to working with local authorities. It has asked the government to say how it will ensure that all areas exceeding pollution limits have been identified and included in targets. The report also requests that the government publish a plan that includes robust, effective measures to meet 2030 targets for air pollutants.

What are the next steps?

The government should respond in writing to the reports of select committees within two months of publication. The response will be published on the committee’s website. You can find out more information about the inquiry here.

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