Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



  20.  Right; so that is the one and only reference to the DETR's Green Minister in the Annual Report; there is nothing outlining what the Green Minister has performed?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  And there is a passage in there about the role of Green Ministers.

  21.  Right; okay. On the question of the Sustainable Development Unit, can you tell me how many people work in that Unit?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  Maybe I can ask Brian Leonard to comment.
  (Mr Leonard)  There are 14.

  22.  Right; and there are 18 Government Departments, I believe. Do you think that the 14 people in the Sustainable Development Unit are in a position to ensure that green thinking is at the heart of Government policy?
  (Mr Leonard)  I think they are doing what is required, and they, of course, have established a network of green contacts around every Department, so every Department has officials in it who link with the Sustainable Development Unit.

  23.  On the subject of Green Ministers, which Sir Andrew referred to, I understand there was the second or the third meeting of Green Ministers on 8 June, this year. Can you tell us what the outcome of that meeting was?
  (Mr Leonard)  Green Ministers, at that meeting, considered progress on green operations and the model improvement plan that each Department is considering introducing, and will introduce, on greening operations. They also considered progress with environmental appraisal, and they considered how, in future, it was best to establish systems in Departments which enabled environmental issues, environmental integration issues in particular, to be established and how they should be reported on; and after the Environmental Audit Committee has reported on green matters, which we are expecting soon, Green Ministers matters, decisions will be taken about that.

  24.  And at this meeting did they come up with any conclusions about how best to implement green policies, or are they simply waiting for the Environmental Audit Committee to report?
  (Mr Leonard)  On greening operations, the Department has, in consultation with others, produced a draft of a model improvement plan, and Ministers considered that as a sort of first reading and will now take it away and look at how to do it. On reporting, they will wait, I think, to hear the views of the Environmental Audit Committee, and indeed any views that this Committee may have, about how best to do it. It is quite complex, to understand how best to get the messages across about the reporting; you can incorporate them in existing reports, for example, or another option will be to produce a separate report in each Department, and the balance between those requires the views of the people who want to hear the information as well as the people giving it, so that is why we are waiting.

  25.  Can you explain to us, or can someone on the panel explain to us, how the views of Green Ministers are currently fed into the Government policy-making process?
  (Mr Leonard)  Policy-making itself is the responsibility of the formally-established Cabinet Committees, and the ENV Committee is set up to consider environmental issues. So Green Ministers are specifically responsible not for taking decisions about policy, green policy, which is a matter for a Cabinet Committee, but about the operations of the Department and the ways green operations of the Department, if you like, facilitate management and use of waste and energy, and so on, and establishment of systems inside Departments which will inform policy and enable policy to reflect environmental matters better. And what they are likely to do is to report to those Ministers, in particular Secretaries of State in each Department, who are responsible for policy. So Green Ministers are more concerned with how you deliver the environmentally-aware policy than the decision on policies themselves.

Mr Olner

  26.  So what is the success rate?
  (Mr Leonard)  I think, progress is being made in a number of areas.

  27.  That is not answering the question, is it: what is the success rate?
  (Mr Leonard)  We do not have a rate.

  28.  Do you think you ought to have?
  (Mr Leonard)  I think it could be considered, yes.

Mr Brake

  29.  So, if I understand correctly, the Green Ministers are simply there to ensure that their Departments are doing the best they can from a green point of view, they are not there to try to influence the Home Office, or whichever Department they are in so that they adopt policies within their Department, home affairs that are green?
  (Mr Leonard)  I think the integration of environmental issues into other policy issues, and, indeed, the way in which different Departments contribute to sustainable development, is quite a sophisticated thing to grasp, for Government or for anybody else, and it is relatively new, it is a relatively young approach to policy and what Green Ministers can do is help their Departments understand those issues better. There is an awareness that the Green Ministers can gain themselves by attending Green Ministers meetings and receiving support and advice, in particular from the DETR, which itself links through to green bodies, and so on. And there is an awareness they can gain in terms of the machinery and the mechanisms, the way in which you can establish environmental appraisals, the way in which you can establish environmental strategies, sustainable development strategies, that they can acquire as a group and then take back into their Departments. So a willingness to achieve environmental sustainable development progress is more deliverable as a result of Green Ministers. And that would apply in any of the Departments, and all the main Departments sit on Green Ministers.

Mrs Ellman

  30.  I would just like to pursue further this very important question, the integration of environment policies into other issues. Have you changed your financial accounting policies in any way to accommodate that, and do you consider how you could credit the benefits of an environmental policy, perhaps in national terms, and relate that to what might be an immediate extra cost, it might be in one Department, or, indeed, it might be outside of the Department, say, in local government; have you started to look at that?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  The way we account for the money we are given does not bring environmental considerations into account, but the way in which, first of all, projects are appraised increasingly does bring environmental considerations into account, and, more importantly, we are now moving on into programmes, so that the full environmental benefits or disbenefits come in to the point of decision-making, but we do not write it up, we do not keep kind of green values which we add to or subtract from the figures that we report in the accounts that we present.

  31.  Do you have any plans to do that?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  No, I do not think we do. I think we think that this is actually an extremely ambitious and very difficult thing to do, to put monetary values on environmental benefits and disbenefits. And, indeed, some of the green movement would not actually welcome that, because I think they fear that if you take this process of cost/benefit analysis and then add a kind of green element to it you fall into the trap of ascribing values to the things which are easy to value and underplaying the things that are less easy to value, for example, what value do we put on landscape or preservation of species. And I have come across many people in the green movement who actually believe that overuse of cost/benefit analysis is not actually beneficial to the argument of their case.

  32.  But, nevertheless, finance is a major factor in allocation of resources, is it not, so how do you assess value for money for the Department in terms of delivering environmental benefit?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  We have to bring environmental considerations into account. If you take something like procurement, we have over the last few years rewritten the procurement guides so that people are not simply encouraged to take the lowest price, that they have to look at the entire life-cycle of a product that they are buying, including issues about its sourcing, and including issues about its ultimate recycling or waste disposal. You cannot always put monetary values on those, but it is very clear that you do not simply buy something blind and then when you have finished with it dispose of it and wash your hands of it.

Christine Butler

  33.  Mr Leonard, what particular steps is the DETR taking to ensure success in implementing management and appraisal systems across Whitehall on this issue which we have been discussing for some time now?
  (Mr Leonard)  It is leading the advice on that.

  34.  Can you tell me what advice?
  (Mr Leonard)  It is producing itself an approach to environmental appraisal of policies, and using its links with the expert bodies and advising other Departments who themselves are doing that, too.

  35.  What is the response from other Departments to the initiative then of the DETR?
  (Mr Leonard)  It is really connected to the model improvement plan that is being generated to introduce steps that cover a full range of environmental performance in Departments, and the DETR has produced the outline model improvement plan.

  36.  When did it produce that?
  (Mr Leonard)  It produced a draft earlier this year, within the last few weeks, and that was discussed at the Green Ministers meeting that was mentioned earlier.

  37.  Is it being implemented across Whitehall?
  (Mr Leonard)  Yes, it will be, in each Department there is an Officer and a Minister whose responsibility it is to introduce it.

  38.  Sorry, is it being implemented? You said "it will be".
  (Mr Leonard)  Such a plan has to be put into place in each Department and formally put into place, and that is in the process at the moment.

  39.  Have you any idea though when that will be in place?
  (Mr Leonard)  I do not know for each Department, no.

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