Taking the environment and sustainable development
into account in the Review
8. The Committee's concern in considering the process
for the Comprehensive Spending Review stemmed partly from its
awareness that the Review was being carried out prior to the completion
by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions
of the Government's Sustainable Development Strategy and its awareness
of the "bolt-on" nature of the reminder to departments
to consider this angle in their reviews.
9. The Committee found that the Comprehensive Spending
Review report did not give the impression that the environment
had been considered at the heart of the decisionmaking on
public expenditure nor did it highlight the Government's policy
commitment to sustainable development. In the summary and overview
the only related references were to the Government's key objective
to increase sustainable growth and to the integrated transport
strategy's contribution to the Government's strategy for promoting
sustainable development. Further explanation of the Government's
commitment to ensuring that growth is environmentally sustainable
was not given until a small box in the supporting chapter.
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury considered that what was important
was not whether there were a few warm words in the White Paper
but whether sustainable development was taken into account.
And he expressed his confidence that it had been.
10. The Chief Secretary stressed that the Review
should be seen as part of the umbrella of policies determined
by the Government as a whole and within the context of the Government's
other policies and priorities within which sustainable development
is seen as a priority.
He noted that the timing of the Comprehensive Spending Review
was determined by the need to fulfil the Government's manifesto
pledge to operate within the previous Government's overall spending
totals and then to reorder priorities for the remainder of the
He added that the Sustainable Development Strategy would be published
early in 1999 and that the Government needed to get this Strategy
right, to ensure that it had the broad support of the people concerned.
11. The Treasury confirmed that other than the reminder,
which was from the Deputy Prime Minister to his Cabinet colleagues,
there had been no new guidance to departments on taking sustainable
development into account in the Review. Departments were expected
to follow existing guidance on the assessment of the environmental
impacts of spending and other policy proposals.
12. The Chief Secretary further underlined the point
that it had been up to departments to build sustainable development
into the programmes they put forward. He did not accept that the
Treasury should have a policeman's function in this. He considered
the Treasury's role was to support and be assertive where it needed
to be but to get departments to recognise their own responsibilities.
In his view the better, and indeed the only, way that sustainable
development would be at the heart of individual departments' work
was if they felt they had ownership of it and it was not being
imposed on them from above, with the Treasury wielding a big stick.
He pointed to the importance of departments themselves having
the proper mechanisms in place for evaluation and monitoring,
citing particularly the examples of schools, hospital trusts and
health authorities where it was for the department to monitor
progress and it was inappropriate for the Treasury to do so.
13. In response to the Committee, the Chief Secretary
also distinguished between the Treasury's role with respect to
financial matters where, although there is financial derogation,
the Treasury does have a supervisory role and departments have
to come to Treasury if there is a need for additional expenditure;
and environmental issues, where he saw the Treasury's role as
engaging them in the debate and holding them to account for the
He added that in the context of promoting value for money and
best value there was also a responsibility on the Treasury to
show how that could be done in a way that is environmentally friendly
14. We also explored whether the Department of the
Environment, Transport and the Regions had had a special role
in ensuring that the Review was appropriately used as an opportunity
to reorientate government spending towards more sustainable development
and found that they had not. They told us that they had worked
closely with other departments on cross-cutting reviews, for example
with the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food on the countryside
and rural policy, and had kept in touch with other reviews in
so far as they concerned services delivered by local authorities.
But they confirmed that they had not routinely received detailed
information on other aspects of other departments' reviews or
spending plan proposals during the Comprehensive Spending Review.
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury confirmed that in cases not
formally involving the Department of the Environment, Transport
and the Regions it would have been for the individual departments
to identify whether the environment was an issue that should be
discussed with them as well as the Treasury.
15. There is no firm evidence as to whether departments
instituted their own arrangements for ensuring and checking that
environment and sustainable development issues were considered
in their Comprehensive Spending Reviews. The Council for the Protection
of Rural England's summaries of departments' answers to parliamentary
questions on the subject showed that the Ministry of Defence said
it had no such mechanism in place and eight other departments
appeared to rely on having mentioned it in their terms of reference.
Only the Scottish Office replied that its Green Minister had been
asked to assist colleagues to ensure that sustainable development
is properly reflected in all its reviews.
16. 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 and identifying the environmental impacts
of policies and implications for sustainable development.
And we note the differences between the process involved in preparing
the Comprehensive Spending Review and that for Cabinet policy
papers which must identify significant costs and benefits to the
environment and take account of views expressed by the Sustainable
Development Unit in the Department of the Environment, Transport
and the Regions before their submission to the Cabinet.
17. We welcome the emphasis the Treasury rightly
places on departments taking responsibility for their own affairs,
but note also the Chief Secretary's descriptions of the limited
role the Treasury have played. We have no reason to believe that
departmental Ministers are not committed to the principle that
to move towards sustainable development, all decisions need to
be taken in the light of wide-ranging consideration of their immediate
and long-term implications on the economy, social conditions and
the environment. However we note that the discipline and methodologies
for undertaking formal appraisals of environmental and social
impacts of policies are not yet fully developed. We therefore
believe that departments should have been provided with guidance
and assistance; and 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. In
particular we consider departments should have been required to
report whether their policies had significant environmental implications
and if so how they had been addressed as a basis for their discussions
with the Treasury.
18. We would also stress the importance of fully
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 of the importance
of the policy for those preparing the document as well as providing
a better insight into government thinking for the reader of the
19. We accept the Chief Secretary's point that it
is, of course, important to look beyond the rhetoric and the processes
of the Comprehensive Spending Review.
In the remaining sections of this report we examine the evidence
of sustainable development implications having been taken into
account in practice.
6 Environmental Audit Committee Second Report Op.
Cit., Re paragraphs 77 & 78 Back
Op.Cit. p25 Back
QQ4 to 6 & 25 to 27 Back
QQ2 & 26 Back
QQ80 & 81 Back
Ev p1, Treasury memorandum. Existing guidance is listed as the
Treasury document "Economic Appraisal and Evaluation in Central
Government" (revised 1997) and DETR's publication "Policy
Appraisal and the Environment". Back
QQ13 & 70 Back
QQ46 & 69 Back
Ev p 28 Back
Ev p 43 Back
Cabinet Committee Business. A guide for Departments. November