SCOTLAND’S environmental agency has been accused of going easy on polluters after cutting water tests to save money.
SEPA has been cutting back on checks on big businesses and be reducing the number of river samples they take in a bit to cut costs.
They say they are instead aiming for “better regulation”, a claim dismissed by critics.
Water testing in Scotland’s rivers has been scaled back
Professor Andrew Watterson, head of the occupational and environmental health research group at Stirling University, said: “Less regulation almost invariably leads companies that pollute escaping detection.”
Last year SEPA carried out more than 5000 fewer checks on companies than were undertaken the previous year, with inspectors carrying out just 3718 checks.
River checks also fell, from 16,710 in 2010-11 to 12,410 in 2011-12. It has also been revealed that enforcement actions by the Scottish Government’s environmental watchdog had dropped by 22% in just two years.
In 2008-09 the organisation handed out 352 enforcement orders, but by 2010-11 this had dropped to just 273.
Last month a financial report revealed that SEPA is currently facing a budget deficit of £1.6 million, a figure which is set to rise to £2.8 million by 2016-17.
Environmental campaigners have now urged the Scottish Government to give urgent funding to SEPA.
Friends of the Earth Scotland chief executive Stan Blackley said: “If they don’t, they risk removing the bark and bite from Scotland’s environmental watchdog and giving serial and persistent offenders a get out of jail free card.
“SEPA will undoubtedly try to make better use of the limited resources it has but reductions in the number of inspections made will most likely allow more companies to get away with polluting.”
SEPA chief executive James Curran denied that the money saving drive would lead to more companies getting away will polluting.
He said: “Better regulation is smarter regulation. We think we are targeting resources much better and delivering the outcomes that I think everybody is Scotland would want.”
He added that SEPA had increased the number of air samples they took by 26%.
It is proposed that companies with good records would receive fewer visits while the number of visits to poorly performing sites would increase.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said avoiding cutting SEPA funding as much as possible.
She said: “We all need to consider opportunities for delivering outcomes in a better and more efficient way. SEPA’s work to refocus some of its monitoring activity is to be commended.”