Where there's muck ...;Subject of the week;Environment

26th June 1998 at 01:00
A little-known source of funds can turn rubbish tips into a goldmine for schools, says Carmel Whyte

Is the landfill tax credit scheme a golden goose for environmental education projects? Some schools are cashing in, but many others remain unaware of the benefits.

In essence, landfill site operators can reclaim up to 20 per cent of their landfill tax in any 12-month period. The money must be given to "approved environmental bodies" - those enrolled with the scheme's regulatory body ENTRUST - which can then apply for funding of 90 per cent of a project. But the landfill operator or a commercial partner must provide the remaining 10 per cent of funds. The environmental body is not allowed to provide the 10 per cent itself.

Launched in 1996, landfill tax totals around pound;450 million a year. To date, environmental bodies have received more than pound;78 million. The total of nearly 800 enrolled bodies includes schools, colleges, parent-teacher and church restoration groups and community organisations.

Springwell Community School in Chesterfield used the scheme to boost funding for its environmentally-themed radio station, Emerald Radio. Launched four years ago, it has attracted pound;22,000 external funding in that time. This year, as an approved environmental body, it stands to gain pound;12,000 from its two main sponsors, Biffa Waste Services and Yorkshire Environmental.

"We would not have heard about the scheme if we hadn't already been involved with landfill operators," explains project leader and head of English Keith Morgan.

Emerald is a fine example of the type of project the scheme supports. Throughout the year, the 24 to 30-strong team of pupils gathers material for the four-week broadcasting period at the end of spring term. Music is mixed with celebrity interviews and on-site recordings from continental venues and events of environmental significance to provide "green" food for thought.

At Y Pant comprehensive, south Wales, the story is quite different. The school's hope of acquiring a healthy chunk of the pound;70,000-plus needed to build a performing arts studio has turned to disappointment.

Y Pant enrolled as an environmental body, and submitted its project to ENTRUST twice before gaining approval. Unfortunately, the money received so far is a small fraction of the sum required. Now the school is desperately seeking other local operators in a bid to boost funds.

Headteacher Ann Clemett is keen that others learn from the school's experience: if they expect the credit scheme to yield huge sums quickly, they could be disappointed.

Although the credit scheme path may be paved with sponsorship gold, it is by no means a quick fix for funding gaps, or the Fairy Godmother of grand plans. Projects must meet ENTRUST cri-teria. Around 3,000 projects are benefiting, from church restorations to nature trails and research into waste management. The common theme is environmental improvement, locally or on a wider scale. Projects must also appeal to the landfill operator. An ever-growing number of projects and a finite number of operators means they can be selective.

But it's important that the landfill operator can fund its 90 per cent commitment from its tax contribution. There are around 15 major national companies and a host of small, local operators. Local operators may be keen to back local schools' projects, and may have no problems providing the initial 10 per cent. But if the project is costly, is the operator's tax liability enough to provide the remaining 90 per cent?

Schools keen to develop environmental education without becoming an approved environmental body can apply to local "approved" organisations that are attracting credit scheme cash to fund community projects.

Another option is launched next spring by environmental organisation Going for Green. Its IT and curriculum-based Green Code programme has attracted pound;1 million from the scheme.

The code encourages pupils to adopt small lifestyle changes, bearing the environmental impact in mind. Three CD Rom-based environmental scenarios are being developed, for key stages 1, 2 and 3 and 4, and a post-16 version is in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, pound;250,000 recently obtained through the scheme for a long-established pan-European environmental schools programme, Eco-Schools, will enable the organisers, Tidy Britain Group, to consider adding a new dimension to the programme - bringing environmental experts into schools.

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