Select Committee on Environmental Audit Third Report


The Environmental Audit Committee has agreed to the following Report:—


Summary of Conclusions and Recommendations

1. The Committee's conclusions and recommendations are listed below:

    (a)  We remain concerned that the Comprehensive Spending Review White Paper and the formal processes for preparing it did not put enough weight on the Government's commitment to sustainable development (paragraph 16).

    (b)  We believe that in the Comprehensive Spending Review departments should have been provided with guidance and assistance. They should not have been relied upon to take account of sustainable development with neither the Treasury nor the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions having a clear responsibility to check that they had done so (paragraph 17).

    (c)  We stress the importance of reflecting the Government's commitment to sustainable development in the words of its key reports. We believe that to turn the ship of Government onto a sustainable course still requires some changes in hearts and minds and that the summarising of the proposed actions in published documents reinforces the message (paragraph 18).

    (d)  We conclude that although the Government did not formally use the Comprehensive Spending Review to tackle subsidies which have an adverse environmental impact it is none-the-less considering action to address many of them. We welcome this and look forward to being able to see real progress on removing these distortions (paragraph 23).

    (e)  The balance of spending between roads and rail does not appear to have been addressed in the Comprehensive Spending Review (paragraph 26).

    (f)  On balance we would say that whilst the increases in funding for environmental protection programmes should be welcomed, they are marginal by comparison to what could be achieved through integration of environmental considerations into the Government's more mainstream programmes for health, education, competitiveness etc (paragraph 27).

    (g)  Overall we have found that some consideration has been given to environmental impacts in the Comprehensive Spending Review. However, we have been disappointed by the answers to our questions on the environmental appraisal of policies and we conclude that the Government has not been meeting its commitments in this regard (paragraph 38).

    (h)  The Committee urges the Government to persist until all departments explicitly adopt the Government's policy on sustainable development in their aims and objectives (paragraph 41).

    (i)  The Chief Secretary challenged the Committee to hold departments to account on their impacts on the environment and sustainable development. We consider the Public Service Agreements do not provide a strong foundation for this (paragraph 47).

    (j)  We consider that the omission of commitments for greening government operations from the Public Service Agreements demonstrates the Government's lack of real concern for that agenda. This is the central mechanism for holding departments to account and the only one which has the force of being linked to consideration of departments' future budgets (paragraph 49).

    (k)  We welcome the Treasury's decision to incorporate consideration of environmental impacts in their consideration of bids for capital funding. We urge them to take this further opportunity to ensure that in their Departmental Investment Strategies departments sign up to and have plans to deliver targets for energy efficiency and dealing with contaminated land (paragraph 51).

    (l)  We are very concerned about the constraint the fixed three year spending limits place on key policies which are due to be finalised within the next year or so. We ask the Government again to tell us what provision they it has made to enable forthcoming policies to be taken forward, in particular the Sustainable Development Strategy and the Renewable Energy Policy. We ask particularly whether there will be scope to address the need for any new spending on these for the year 2001 - 02 which, although it is the third year of the current Comprehensive Spending Review period, is also to be the first year of the second Comprehensive Spending Review (paragraphs 54 & 55).

    (m)  We urge the Cabinet Committee on Public Services and Public Expenditure Committee (PSX), to remember the importance of sustainable development issues even though they have perhaps not always been fully spelled out in the Public Service Agreements. In the absence of an obvious champion for the environment within PSX we recommend that the Government should require departments to identify their contribution to sustainable development in their annual performance reports to that Committee (paragraph 58).

    (n)  In the second Comprehensive Spending Review and its report the Government should more fully reflect its commitment to sustainable development and the approach it is adopting, so that it is clear that its spending proposals and performance targets are fully consistent with its strategic policy intention (paragraph 59).

    (o)  For the benefit of openness and to enable an audit trail, key guidance on matters to be addressed in the second Comprehensive Spending Review should be publicly available. This guidance should spell out clearly that departments should take into account their contribution to sustainable development in their reviews, proposals, targets and investment strategies and that they should report their overall approach in the resulting documents (paragraph 60).

    (p)  To ensure that sustainable development considerations are taken into account and given sufficient weight the second Comprehensive Spending Review should involve a checking mechanism, drawing on the expertise of the staff of the Sustainable Development Unit and, if possible, Ministers with a special interest in the overall sustainable development policy (paragraph 61).

    (q)  The next Public Service Agreements should include performance targets related to key aspects of the Government's sustainable development strategy and its commitment to greening government operations (paragraph 62).

    (r)  The next Comprehensive Spending Review should make clear the funding position regarding important policy developments which are already known to be under review for completion within the expenditure period (paragraph 63).


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Prepared 16 February 1999