Memorandum from the Ministry of Agriculture,
Fisheries and Food
1. This Memorandum responds to the request by
the Environmental Audit Committee for information about the conduct
of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) in MAFF and in particular
how the Government's commitment to environmental protection and
sustainable development was addressed.
THE CSR IN
2. The purpose of the CSR was explained in a
statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the House on 11
June 1997. Departments were asked to scrutinise their spending
plans from a zero base in order to assess how each item of expenditure
contributed to the Government's objectives. Subsequently, the
Treasury issued detailed guidance to Departments on the conduct
of, and timetable for, the review.
3. The terms of reference for the CSR in MAFF,
and the arrangements for the conduct of the review, were published
on 29 July.
4. The Review Team assessed the rationale for
each of the Department's spending programmes, including the scope
for improving the overall effectiveness of the Ministry's operations.
The Team was assisted in this task by a number of working groups
which focused on the Department's key spending programmes. Each
working group had specific terms of reference (see attached News
Release) and all but one included non-departmental representatives
who were acknowledged experts in their field. Each group also
included representatives of other Government Departments, including
a representative from DETR on the working group on support for
farmers in the less favoured areas.
5. The Ministry's countryside schemes were the
subject of a separate review which was conducted jointly with
DETR and also covered that Department's expenditure on countryside
programmes. The outcome of this review was taken into account
in the conclusions of the separate departmental CSRs for the two
6. A large part of MAFF's activities impact
on the environmental and the efficiency and sustainability of
the agricultural and food industries. Concern for sustainability
and environmental impact is integral to MAFF's policies and as
such was very much to the fore throughout the CSR without needing
to be identified as a separate issue. Examples of areas in which
sustainable development was considered include:
Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowances
(HLCAs): a policy evaluation of the HLCA scheme was carried
out by external consultants and subsequently published. This discussed
the effects of the scheme on grazing pressure and the measures
which had been taken to address over-grazing. The CSR recommended
that the present scheme be replaced by one with clearer environmental
and social objectives.
Flood and coastal defence: among
the issues considered by a separate Working Group in assessing
the continuing need for a flood defence programme were the risks
associated with a rise in sea level. The Group also considered
the arrangements for assessing grant applications and endorsed
the present system under which schemes are assessed in terms of
whether they are economically justified, technically sound and
R&D. The CSR Working Group
on R&D noted that MAFF's research budget was directed mainly
to supporting the Department's policies, including those relating
to sustainable development and enhancement of the UK environment
and its biodiversity.
7. On the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP),
the CSR concluded that there was no longer any rationale for production
support, which should be phased out, and that the underlying objective
should be to encourage an efficient agricultural industry capable
of thriving without subsidy. While external pressures (WTO and
enlargement of the EU) pointed to substantial reform, a general
reluctance on the part of most Member States meant that progress
would be slow. The review concluded that consumers and the rural
environment should benefit from reform in the direction advocated
by the UK.
8. The outcome of MAFF's CSR was summarised
in Chapter 18 of the White Paper on "Modern Public Services
for Britain" and explained in broad terms by the Minister
in his written statement to the House on 29 July 1998 (Official
Report, columns 341-45). On 27 October the Minister gave evidence
to the Agriculture Select Committee on the impact of the CSR on
MAFF, and on the same day he made a further written statement
to the House setting out the key financial implications for the
Department (Official Report, columns 156-58).
9. The CSR in MAFF did not identify any policies
and/or subsidies, other than the CAP, which had an adverse environmental
impact or ran contrary to sustainable development objectives.
The Minister announced the closure of the Nitrate Sensitive Areas
scheme. This decision was the result not of any failings in the
scheme itself, but to release funds for improving and enhancing
other priority agri-environment schemes.
10. Environmental appraisals as such were not
undertaken for the new spending proposals in MAFF's CSR. However,
an understanding of the relationship between subsidies to farmers
and the environmental effects of farming informed discussions
during the review. And, as mentioned in paragraph 6 above, the
review endorsed the practice of making environmental impact a
key consideration in the assessment of flood and coastal defence
projects for grant aid. The Parliamentary Secretary (Commons)
announced in July that flood and coastal defence schemes to protect
environmentally important habits would, if necessary, be given
a higher priority for funding than might otherwise be the case
on strict economic grounds. The CSR concluded that the commissioning
of a new marine research vessel was fully justified by the need
for monitoring and research in support of the Department's work
on the sustainability of fisheries and protection of the marine
11. Evaluation of new policy proposals will
include an appraisal of the environmental impact where appropriate.
The timing of evaluations will depend on a variety of factors
including, for example, the outcome of the negotiations in the
EU on the Commission's Agenda 2000 proposals.
12. The Department is committed to respecting
the principles of sustainable development in pursuing its objectives.
These principles include addressing the environmental impact of
13. The Department's Public Service Agreement
sets out the aim and objectives, principles and approach of MAFF;
the resources made available to the Department in the CSR; the
broad approach to modernising services; the outputs and outcomes
the Department will deliver; and the targets that we aim to achieve
and the efficiency with which the resources will be used. Environmental
considerations underpin a number of the Department's objectives.
14. The Department is working with DETR to develop
by Spring 1999 arrangements for the joint planning of countryside
policies and programmes, including publication of joint countryside
objectives, description of the programmes to achieve those objectives
and plans for measuring performance against the objectives. A
final decision on whether to produce a joint Public Service Agreement
with DETR had not been taken at the time of writing.