The government’s departments and agencies are ignoring its own sustainability targets for new buildings and refurbishments, with only 9% achieving the required standards, the National Audit Office (NAO) has found.

The report, published 20 April, is highly embarrassing for the Labour government, which has put carbon reduction at the heart of its agenda.

Only 35% of new building projects, or 37 out of 106, were put through the BREEAM environmental assessment method during 2005-2006, despite the fact that this has been a government requirement since 2002. The figure for major refurbishments was even worse, with just 18% or 61 out of 335 projects given a BREEAM assessment.

The NAO report, published 20 April, also found that most of the few projects to be assessed missed their targets. Government policy requires all new government buildings to achieve BREEAM ‘excellent’, but only 38% of those assessed actually did so. Just 44% of the refurbishments which were assessed achieved the required ‘very good’ rating.

The NAO concludes that sustainable procurement is a low priority for senior department officials. ‘Estate management is regarded as a fairly lowly aspect [of departmental business] and estate managers are having difficulty getting this on the radar of senior officials in the departments,’ said Eric Lewis, who managed the NAO study. The government spends £3bn a year on its own estate but this is a tiny sum compared to government departments’ total budgets, Lewis said.

The NAO also blamed the failures on a lack of accountability, with the Department for Food and Rural Affairs being seen as responsible for sustainability while the Office for Government Commerce is responsible for procurement. ‘There is a vacuum in terms of where the responsibility for sustainable procurement lies,’ said Lewis.

The report will be scrutinised by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, which is likely to call on the permanent secretaries of both Defra and the OGC to explain the failings.

‘We want to see the lack of accountability and clarity resolved, and for monitoring and compliance measures to be put in place,’ said Lewis. ‘We also want practical support and expertise to be made available to the government departments.’

Lewis added that on current results, the government has little hope of achieving the additional targets that it has set itself since 2002, such as achieving a 30% improvement in energy efficiency by 2020 and making the central government office estate carbon neutral by 2012. ‘These are hugely challenging targets and there is no chance whatsoever of getting anywhere towards meeting them unless we move beyond the requirement for BREEAM assessments and start setting specific targets within project specifications,’ he said.