Select Committee on Environmental Audit Third Report



The new public expenditure regime

DEPARTMENTAL AIMS AND OBJECTIVES

39.   In June 1998 the Committee drew attention to the fact that only 10 out of 18 government departments had identified a commitment to sustainable development in their overall aims and objectives in their annual reports.[56] The Committee was therefore disappointed to see that there had been little progress on this in the revised aims and objectives of departments which were published alongside the Comprehensive Spending Review report in July 1998. Non­government organisations also identified continued shortcomings — stressing the importance of departments having environmental objectives and objectives in relation to bio-diversity where appropriate.[57]

40. In November 1998 in its response to the Committee the Government said that Green Ministers would consider and report to the Cabinet Committee, ENV, on how far sustainable development should be incorporated into the remit of existing departments and non-departmental public bodies.[58] The Committee was pleased to see that in the subsequent Public Service Agreements, published in December 1998, there was an improvement in the adoption by Departments of aims and objectives which made explicit reference to sustainable development. In particular, the Department for Trade and Industry has now said that in pursuit of their objectives they will promote sustainable development and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have referred to their responsibilities in relation to the built environment and the contribution their input to urban and rural regeneration makes to sustainability.[59] However, the Committee notes that there are still seven of the main departments whose aims and objectives, as set out in the Public Service Agreements, make no explicit reference to sustainable development: the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Education and Employment, the Department of Health, the Home Office, the Lord Chancellor's Department, the Department for Social Security and the Cabinet Office (see Figure 1 below). In addition, there remains a confusing array of terms used to refer to the issue in departments' aims and objectives.

41. The revision to aims and objectives in the Public Service Agreements represents the third opportunity this Government has had to ensure that departmental objectives reflect its overarching commitment to sustainable development. It is not clear to us whether the Agreements now represent this Government's final statement on the matter or whether the Cabinet Committee ENV is still looking at aims and objectives, as promised by the Government. The Committee urges the Government to persist until all departments explicitly adopt the Government's policy on sustainable development in their aims and objectives.


56   Environmental Audit Committee Second Report 1998 - 99, HC517 Back

57   Ev pp 38, 56 &57 Back

58   The Government's Response to the Environmental Audit Committee's report on the Greening Government Initiative Cm 4108, paragraph 20 Back

59   Op.Cit. pp 86 & 107 Back


 
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Prepared 16 February 1999