Select Committee on Environmental Audit Third Report



PUBLIC SERVICE AGREEMENTS

42. The Public Service Agreements set out measurable targets for the full range of the Government's objectives for public services against which performance can be monitored. They are the main instrument for achieving the Government's promise of getting from the public services modernisation and reform in return for the money allocated to them in the Comprehensive Spending Review. The Chief Secretary told the Committee, the week before the Public Service Agreements were published, that they would be the key to holding individual departments to account, providing the opportunity to see exactly what is being delivered for the money voted to them.[60] He said that where there are significant environmental matters they would be referred to in the Public Service Agreements.[61]

43. Despite these assurances, we have found that the Public Service Agreements contain few targets addressing departments' explicit commitments to sustainable development. Three of the departments which referred to sustainable development in their aims and objectives have set no related targets: these were the Treasury, Northern Ireland Office and Welsh Office. Only seven of the main government departments, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development, the Department for Trade and Industry and the Scottish Office, have included relevant targets linked to their explicit environmental or sustainable development commitments.



Figure 1: Review of policy departments' commitments on sustainable development in the Public Service Agreements





Commitments to sustainable development or the environment


Agriculture, Fisheries and Food


Her Majesty's Treasury


Culture, Media & Sport


Defence


Education & Employment


Environment, Transport & Regions


Foreign & Commonwealth Office


Health


Home Office


International Development


Lord Chancellor's Dept


Cabinet Office


Social Security


Trade and Industry


Northern Ireland Office


Scottish Office


Welsh Office

Public Service Agreement -aims and objectives

Y

Y 1

Y

N

N

Y

Y 4

N

N

Y

N

N

N

Y

Y

5


Y

Y

Public Service Agreement - performance targets

Y

N

Y 2

N

N

Y

Y 4

N

N

Y

N

N

N

Y

N

Y

N

Public Service Agreement - productivity of operations

N

N

N

N

N

Y 3

N

N

N

N

N

N

Y

N

N

N

N

Y = TICK
N = CROSS

Source: Environmental Audit Committee

Note  1. As reported in the Environmental Audit Committee's Second Report on the Greening Government Initiative, the Treasury's aim is to raise the rate of sustainable economic growth.

 2. DCMS's targets reflect its work to promote sustainable tourism but not other elements of the department's work.

 3. DETR's tasks for delivery do not reflect the whole greening government agenda, but do reflect the greening of procurement.

 4. The FCO's objective to uphold sustainable development appears to relate solely to UK Overseas Territories, and is not reflected in its targets. The targets do, however, show that the objective of improving quality of life worldwide incorporates environmental issues.

 5. NIO's aims and objectives encompass environmental policy but do not give full explicit commitment to sustainable development.


Seven of the policy departments still do not address the environment or sustainable development in their aims and objectives, and three of those that do have not set related targets.

44. We were pleased to see that some key environmental targets have been included for the main government departments, but disappointed by the procedural nature of some and the absence of others. For example we welcome inclusion of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions' targets to make 1 million more buildings cheaper to keep warm through the installation of energy efficiency measures and to increase the number of passenger miles travelled by rail.[62] But we are disappointed at the lack of a complementary target for reducing the number of passenger miles travelled by road. On climate change we note that the provision of a new programme is included in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions' targets but neither the Department for Education and Employment nor the Department of Health are to be held accountable for achieving energy savings in the education and health sectors.[63] We also note the importance of targets being properly framed — for example for the purposes of measuring the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions' target to ensure that 60 per cent of new homes are built on previously developed land we note that previously developed urban land, which had turned into a green lung for the city, would still count as "previously developed".[64]

45. We were also pleased to see that Public Services Agreements, including targets, had been agreed for the Forestry Commission and key Agencies, such as the Exports Credits Guarantee Department and National Savings, although there was no explanation for the selection of the ones which were included. Fortuitously, this allowed us to consider the commitments of the Forestry Commission.

46. We found that concerns about the possibly narrowly constructed aims and targets for the Forestry Commission as foreshadowed in the earlier Comprehensive Spending Review were, as the Chief Secretary had indicated to us that they might be,[65] to some degree allayed. The Comprehensive Spending Review indicated that the Forestry Commission should deliver an improvement in the return to the taxpayer over the next 10 - 20 years and better accountability of decisions on environmental outputs, in return for continuing investment by the taxpayer.[66] This gave the impression that its return could be measured purely in monetary terms, not reflecting the wider social and environmental benefits from its maturing forest and the proposed target of "providing better accountability of decisions on environmental outputs" as the Woodland Trust put it, implied that "environmentally based decisions could be squeezed on cost grounds". We note that the Agreement now commits the Forestry Commission only to developing methods to benchmark its return and thereafter to set an increased rate of return.[67] In the context of the Forestry Commission's aims and objectives and commitment to sustainable development we trust that this will give it the opportunity to ensure that its core measure of return to the taxpayer places sufficient value on non-timber benefits such as the benefits to biodiversity of broadleaved woodland.

47. Clearly any quantified attempt to analyse whether environmental considerations and the Government's commitment to sustainable development had been adequately addressed in the Public Service Agreements could be dismissed as meaningless and any other assessment is likely to be seen as judgemental. Be that as it may, our overall view is that the flavour of the Agreements is that they are to address two concerns and two concerns only — to achieve departmental outputs and to reduce the costs of doing so. Environmental impacts and the meshing together of policy considerations in relation to their impact on sustainable development do not present themselves as priorities for the Government. As a result the Public Service Agreements do not provide a strong foundation for us to take up the challenge offered to us by the Chief Secretary, to hold departments to account on their impacts on the environment and sustainable development. [68]

48. In addition to output and outcome targets related to departments' policy objectives the Public Service Agreements address departments' targets for the efficiency of their operations and for improving the quality of their work, but they do not address the environmental impact of departments' operations. We noted that the Comprehensive Spending Review showed no sign that the Public Service Agreements would tie departments to delivering against the Government's commitment to the greening of its operations. We received no explanations in the memoranda we received from departments as to why their Public Service Agreements were not expected to address this government commitment. And we note that this omission remains in the Public Service Agreements as now published. One particularly striking example of this is in relation to the Ministry of Defence, who have set targets for asset sales and stockholdings but not for addressing their contaminated land.[69]

49. 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. It could of course be argued that not all government policy can be reduced to incorporate within these targets and that where there are already other means for reviewing performance, for example in this case through the annual reports of the Green Ministers Committee, it would represent unnecessary duplication. However, we do not accept those arguments on the grounds that to exclude this policy is to show it as being of a lower importance.


60   Q5 Back

61   Q45 Back

62   Op.Cit.pp27&28 Back

63   Op.Cit.pp 11&12; 20&21 Back

64   Op.Cit p28 and Land Use Change in England, DETR. Back

65   Q32 Back

66   Op.Cit. pp94&95 Back

67   Op.Cit. pp104&105 Back

68   Q44 Back

69   Op.Cit. p72 Back


 
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Prepared 16 February 1999