Select Committee on Environmental Audit Third Report


56. The Cabinet Committee on Public Services and Public Expenditure (PSX) has the responsibility to monitor progress against public service agreements, to review public expenditure allocations and make recommendations to the Cabinet.[77] The Government will report to Parliament annually on progress towards the targets. The Treasury told us that the Committee will consider departments' management of their environmental impacts as part of scrutinising their resource efficiency and elsewhere, where this aspect of their work has been judged significant enough to warrant coverage in their Public Service Agreements.[78] Given the concerns we have expressed above about the limitations on the coverage of environmental impacts in departments' aims and objectives and targets this indicates that the subject will not be a major focus for the Committee. The Chief Secretary assured us that the Committee would monitor Public Service Agreements taking into account all of the issues which have been touched on by the Government, one of which is sustainable development.[79]

57. We have learned that there is no provision for the Committee to include anyone with a particular interest in environmental and sustainable development issues. The Treasury told us that the membership of the Committee is drawn from among non-departmental Ministers or Ministers in charge of departments with relatively small levels of expenditure.[80] The Chief Secretary said that, as head of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the Deputy Prime Minister could not be a member of the Committee.[81] He thought there were many other Ministers who see environment as being a key issue.[82] The Treasury said that there would be other channels open to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to assist other departments and that the Treasury would where necessary draw on the expertise of the Sustainable Development Unit when supporting the Committee in its review of environmental aspects.[83]

58. This gap in PSX points once again to the difficulty for the Government in pursuing its Sustainable Development Strategy under the leadership of the Deputy Prime Minister from his position as Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. We urge the Public Services and Public Expenditure Committee not to forget 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 and sustainable development within the Committee we recommend that the Government should require departments to identify their contribution to sustainable development and all their main environmental impacts and report progress in addressing significant ones in their performance reports to the Committee.

77   Cabinet Committee Business, A guide for departments, Cabinet Office November 1998 Back

78   Ev p3 Back

79   Q23 Back

80   Cabinet Committee Business shows the Committee to be chaired by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and with the Lord Chancellor, the President of the Council, the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, the Chief Whip, the Leader of the House of Lords, and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.  Back

81   Q18 Back

82   QQ19&20 Back

83   Ev p3 Back

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Prepared 16 February 1999