Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence



Examination of witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)

TUESDAY 25 MAY 1999

MR JOHN ADAMS, MS HILARY HILLIER and DR TERENCE ILOTT

  40. Can we move on then to outside central ministries and the Government and in several points in the Strategy you refer to local government and the voluntary sector. How have they been signed up officially to this Strategy or have they not? What is the plan?
  (Mr Adams) I do not think they can all be signed up officially in the sense of acceding to every word of it. The nature of the consultation process which led to its production was our attempt to get as much agreement as we could to the approach we were taking and to the action that was identified not just for Government but as needed by other people. That was why we drew a great deal of comfort from the wide measure of acceptance that we got for Opportunities for Change. We did not stop consulting at the end of the formal consultation period, we had lots of discussions through the autumn and into the early part of this year with all sorts of groups outside. We have close contacts with local government over Local Agenda 21 and other things, for example. So I cannot claim to you that everybody with an interest outside central government subscribes to every last bit of it. Essentially it is a Government document but drawing in material from everywhere else. Clearly a key part of the next stage is then to go out and discuss with those people the Strategy as it has emerged, what they can make of it, if there are any things they disagree with, how they can help deliver it and also how they can be bound into the future monitoring and reporting arrangements.

  41. That is what I would like to know really, your plans for taking it up to the regions, to assess their problems. With all these plans, the success or failure of it relies on whether Mrs Miggens of Number 2 Arcacia Avenue is actually going to do it and it is the local service providers, primarily through local authorities, incentivising and providing facilities for Mrs Miggens to be able to take advantage of these warm words that is going to be the test to it or not. You tell us you have had discussions with local authorities but is there going to be a road show working on it to sell it to local authorities, sell it in the regions, the new regional development set up that we now have, to make sure this is properly taken on board by the people who make a difference?
  (Mr Adams) Our firm plans include at least one seminar or road show in each English region over the next few months. We shall also be discussing with other bodies, and it is easier actually in terms of our relations with people like Regional Development Agencies which are to some degree under the influence of DETR and therefore we shall talk to them. I have already last week been to a regional discussion in Cambridge to try and explain the Strategy and underline the importance of local buy-in and local action to undertake it. We will have to tailor events to different groups and different circumstances. Of course, you mention the public, there is a rather different route for getting to the public, or a series of different routes. This is, however accessible we have attempted to make it, largely a document for interested people and alas for bureaucrats. We will have to convert some of these messages into what should members of the public do differently and that is, of course, one of the things that the "Are you doing your bit" campaign is designed to do and one of the reasons why the Strategy the "Are you doing your bit" were launched on the same day.
  (Ms Hillier) Can I just add a comment here as well. I have been talking to local authorities and to the LGA and the LGMB about developing a suite of indicators which they can use for reporting on sustainable development at local level. We have produced a draft menu of indicators. We held a conference in October which was attended by about 100 local authority representatives from local authorities around the country. We had a very lively and interesting day and we have had a lot of favourable feedback from that event and from our subsequent written consultation on the package of indicators that is being developed. I think a lot of authorities are signed up to this initiative and working to develop indicators themselves. Some of them are looking for guidance from the centre to help them with that. I think there is a lot of awareness out there with local authorities and a lot of action going on.

Joan Walley

  42. If I can just follow up two points which Mr Loughton just raised. I am getting an enormous sense of frustration because I can see a sense of deja vu in the same way that there was with the National Lottery funding arrangements. If you look to page 68 of the document, it recognises that "In the most deprived areas, levels of voluntary activity tend to be very low—around 7 per cent. compared with around 20 per cent. in more affluent communities". I have just got a horrible feeling that where you have got the 100 or so local authorities who attended this wonderful debate day that you had, you are going to end up with those who have got the resources and those who have got perhaps a very eager local community wanting to take this agenda on board, able to do it, but that there will be many more who just do not have that capacity at this stage to be able to get the resources, make the bids in the New Opportunity Fund or wherever it might be to actually get the funding. So are you going to have, if you like, a few examples all around the country, trail blazers, wonderful best practice, but huge deserts of sustainability because you have not got the resources to do it. What resources are going into all of this?
  (Mr Adams) I think, if I may say so, your premise is mistaken.

  43. I hope you are right.
  (Mr Adams) In terms of the local authorities which are most active in this area—which are trail blazing, to some extent, which have provided a model from which we have attempted to build the national Strategy—the ones which are really doing the integrated thinking include places like Bradford and Leicester, many of the big cities, many areas with ethnic minority populations. I think there is a very good story to tell. We and the Local Government Association and the IDA are intent on delivering 100 per cent. of local authorities having Local Agenda 21 Strategies by next year. And, where authorities already produce strategies, improving those, building on them, taking them forward. There will always be a problem of specific resources for specific purposes but actually a lot of this is about getting people to see the scope for redirecting their existing activities to achieve these sorts of outcomes by more integrated thinking. That is a message that we and the Local Government Association have been putting out together for a couple of years or more.

  44. I do not disagree with that at all but it would be very helpful, for example, if we could perhaps as a Committee have details of the number of schools which are now taking part in the environment parliament which I understand was an outcome of this initiative. I have written to every single one of the schools in my constituency. I assume other Members may have done so as well. It will be very interesting to see just what the take up of that particular initiative is. I think that will give us some indication of what resources and potential there is on the ground within the initiative to actually get take up. I fear it because we are starting off at such a level in some areas that with the best will in the world unless we actually develop the kind of resources that the Lottery Fund has put in to 90 per cent. funding at this level, if we concentrate on the capacity building we are just not going to get the take up that we want.
  (Mr Adams) Capacity building is very important and perhaps I could put in a note, Chairman, if that would help the Committee. I think there is an increasing number of funding schemes. Not just the Lottery, the Environmental Action Fund, also private sector sources—the Shell Best Better Britain campaign and others—and Going for Green who are doing good work in this area. Whether those together yet cover 100 per cent. of the population must be doubtful but they have increased enormously in recent years and perhaps we can help the Committee see that.

  Chairman: That would be helpful.

Mr Savidge

  45. In your section on devolution in Chapter 2 you say that the "... Government looks forward to forging new partnerships on sustainable development with the devolved administrations..." in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I wonder if you would just like to expand a little bit on how you think those partnerships might work?
  (Mr Adams) Could I first say, of course, that in terms of the timing this document came out before the devolved institutions took over their powers so this is written, as it were, in the old style under the old regime. The whole emphasis we have attempted to give this morning has been one of partnership in producing this Strategy and following it up. Clearly the existence of those important devolved institutions adds a new layer of complexity to the partnerships we shall have to run and we will look forward to doing that. A great deal of the work anyway has to be done with regional institutions in England, local authorities as we have just been discussing, private sector organisations and others.[1] The Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the institutions in Northern Ireland will now also play a large part. Hopefully, the timing is good in that we will be looking over the next few months at how we carry this forward, and in particular how we design a UK reporting and monitoring system, which is what we shall want, how can the Scots, the Welsh and the Northern Irish participate, not just contribute to that but participate fully in it, and how can we then also take account of their interests and their wishes. So, yes, we will do that. I think we are conscious it adds a slight further burden of administrative complexity but it is something we will do.

Mr Shaw

  46. You referred earlier to the "Are you doing your bit" campaign. This is a £7 million every year publicity campaign. I wonder if you can tell us, is any of this money available to local and voluntary organisations?
  (Mr Adams) There are two elements to the relaunched "Are you doing your bit". One is the television, radio and poster adverts, which Members of the Committee may have already begun to see. But recognising the importance, the crucial nature, of collaboration in this area a second element called "Campaign Extension" has deliberately been designed into this so that the company which is looking after the campaign for the Department has a team which and is both going out and talking to partners but also looking to have people approach it to see how the benefits can be multiplied by working with local authorities who are already running Travelwise campaigns, for example, or voluntary local community groups and others who have particular messages at particular times of the year.

  47. So collaboration rather than giving local authorities cash?
  (Mr Adams) Collaboration rather than giving the local authority cash but giving them material which hopefully is of value in itself and enabling them to link into some of these other messages which will have a high profile.

  48. Have you been able to make any assessment yet of the impact of the campaign side?
  (Mr Adams) I have not seen any assessment yet of the impact but there certainly will be monitoring of its successes, yes.

  Mr Shaw: When you are considering the campaign, do you consider matters of infrastructure? You are spending £7 million every year, hopefully you are going to engage Mrs Potts of Arcacia Avenue—

  Mr Loughton: Miggens.

Mr Shaw

  49.—and her neighbour in energy saving or recycling. I mean there are some local authorities packing up recycling because there is not the infrastructure there. It is all very well putting paper at the door step but if there is not the recycling paper mill to recycle it then it just goes to the landfill and, one, it is expensive and, two, it defeats the object. I wondered if you had looked at the infrastructure indicators?
  (Mr Adams) Absolutely. Obviously there is no point in having an advertising campaign floating free without the policy grounding.

  50. No.
  (Mr Adams) Some of the issues you talk about—

  51. That is happening now, is it not? Local authorities are packing up recycling and we are doing this. There is nothing worse than the public trying to take it on board and you hear it on the television on one hand and they say "The local authority has just told me they cannot afford this practice".
  (Mr Adams) Certainly one or two local authorities have cut back on the extent of recycling they are accepting, others still are doing it hopefully. These are very much matters which the Draft Waste Strategy, which will appear shortly, is designed to address and therefore provide the policy underpinning to see whether markets can be secured so that the peaks and troughs of prices which local authorities can get for their recycled materials, for example, are not so great and therefore provide a great deal of assurance for local authorities who want to do this.

Mr Thomas

  52. The Strategy talks about your desire to spread best practice and the results of scientific research in this area. I wonder if you can tell us how you are co-ordinating the various bits of research being undertaken in the sustainable development field across the Government departments and perhaps tell us whether you are bringing the research funding together in one pot in this area?
  (Mr Adams) Certainly we have not reached the stage of bringing research funding together in one pot. There is an awful lot of relevant research which is going on. As one of the elements of the preparation of the Strategy, the Sustainable Development Unit held a seminar for interested Government departments and the research councils last autumn where we talked to them about what we thought the role of research was and they said some things about what they were doing in this area. The nature of the research effort which is needed to support sustainable development it seems to me is very broad and some of it is going to be done by businesses because hopefully they will see opportunities to make profits by selling better products which include products which have a lower environmental impact. There is a lot of environmental research, research on climate change, for example, which helps define some of the environmental limits which we were talking about earlier. I think some of the work that Government departments need to do is research in bringing together the elements of sustainable development. I have been talking, for example, in the last week or so to DTI who are commissioning research about sustainability management systems, essentially one step on from environmental management.

  53. Forgive me for interrupting. Surely you accept that there is a need to co-ordinate this work or for one person at least to be aware of what is going on in the field or do you just leave it?
  (Mr Adams) No, I accept entirely that we need to be as aware as we can be of what is going on in the field. Whether we can capture everything, I do not know. Nor do I agree that it needs to be brought together to have one set of priorities imposed on it, provided all those, particularly in the public sector but also in the private sector too who are commissioning research, understand the contribution they can be making to sustainable development and are maximising their contribution. I see that as our role.

  54. How do you ensure sufficient research is being done in the areas that Government see as being a key priority if there is no person or if your unit is not centrally co-ordinating?
  (Mr Adams) I think we do need to concentrate on those areas where it seems least likely to happen particularly those areas where there is not a commercial driver for research.

  55. Okay, so who is doing that within the Government? Who is doing that within the Civil Service?
  (Mr Adams) Who is looking for those areas?

  56. Yes?
  (Mr Adams) We are, the Sustainable Development Unit.

  57. Can you tell us about the scale of the ESRC's new programme on Delivering Sustainability which is talked about in the document?
  (Mr Adams) I understand that ESRC has not, after all, decided to construct a new programme for Delivering Sustainability. I apologise to the Committee and I have apologised to the ESRC that that part of the Strategy is incorrect. There is full scope, I understand, for ESRC to fund relevant research on economic and social matters on sustainable development but at this stage they do not propose to mount a continuation of global environmental change which is their programme which is about to come to an end.

  58. Why not?
  (Mr Adams) I think you would have to ask them that question, if I may say so. I was very disappointed and somewhat surprised to hear their decision. It does seem to me that economic and social research—how you get best practice rolled out, what are some of the economic factors underlying sustainable development—is one of the most important areas of research and it is vital that it should be done by somebody.

  59. I entirely agree with that, your comment there, but does that not reinforce the need for a central pot of money?
  (Mr Adams) There is a strong tradition in this country that the research councils have a great deal of independence in what they do and how they allocate their funding. DTI, the Office of Science and Technology and DETR were made aware a few months ago, earlier this year, of proposals by ESRC to develop a follow up to global environmental change and at that stage we all said: "Excellent, this looks exactly what is needed" and gave it as fair a wind as we could. Therefore it came as a complete surprise to us that they had decided not to do it.


1   List of sources of grant for environmental projects available from DETR. Back


 
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