Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)



  120. You think you are on the case with sustainability in general now?
  (Mr Andrew) That is an example of the sort of action we can take if there is the will and the information available, but the problem is that I have to be alerted to and aware of the situation before I can actually intervene. I cannot promise that there is no other department in a similar situation.

Mr Thomas

  121. Surely the problem is that the management systems need to be in place to alert you about that situation, not that you are relying on your contacts in the timber trade or an ad hoc-e-mail or whatever. The management systems have to be in place. Time and time again you have intimated this to this Committee, and you said it earlier on, that it was not centralised but decentralised and you did not really know what was going on. It boils down to the fact that the policy that the Government has at the moment certainly is not worth the tree that is cut down for the paper to be printed. It just is not there. You do not have the systems in place yet.
  (Mr Andrew) There is evidence that the policy is being implemented, but not necessarily by everybody.

  122. I am sure you can point to projects where it works wonderfully but there is also clear evidence that it is not being implemented across all departments and in depth within those departments.
  (Mr Andrew) For some what I will describe as old projects, it is obvious that we are in a transition period. For some reason, those projects have slipped through the cracks. I am getting the responses back from a review that has just been carried out which indicate that changes have been made and management systems are being either fully replaced or being considered to make sure that those sorts of mistakes are not made again.

Mr Challen

  123. We have heard about the multiplicity of certification schemes. We have heard about the EU and WTO procurement rules, and it seems that we are becoming bound up with so much red tape that we do not seem to have a lead on it at all. Within those procurement rules, is it not possible to devise a scheme which is acceptable and which we can implement?
  (Mr Andrew) Yes, we are confident that that is the case. This current consultant's commission is addressing that particular issue. I anticipate that within a few weeks, or certainly months, we will be able to issue revised guidance to all government buyers and probably a revision to that model contract clause that will set out, in contractual terms, how we can actually overcome or work within the constraints of the public procurement regulations and acquire timber from sustainable and legal sources that is independently verified as such.

  124. Does that mean they will have a standard which is binding, which is not about seeking but is actually binding on procurement officers and they can just refer to that document?
  (Mr Andrew) I have no remit to change the policy as stated by Michael Meacher, so that will remain. That policy makes clear that there will be occasions when it is not possible, or not appropriate, to insist on timber from sustainable, renewable sources.

  125. Will this document be presented to Michael Meacher so that the policy might be altered accordingly?
  (Mr Andrew) If there is a need to recommend altering a policy, then we will present that to Michael Meacher as a result.

  126. To what extent are we in conflict with value for money here as well and the Treasury perhaps has a great deal of influence on these issues, which waters down the commitment perhaps to more expensive sourcing?
  (Mr Andrew) Value of money is essential to UK procurement policy in general, but it is misunderstood in that it is possible to follow a policy that may cost more and still achieve value for money at the same quality. I can give you the example of recycled paper, which may not be any more expensive now but it used to be more expensive than virgin paper. There was a policy certainly in my old department to buy it. Having made that decision, the buyer then compares offers for recycled paper and rejects any offer that does not comply with that. Although it costs more and you pay a premium, in a sense, to follow that sustainable development policy, there is not a conflict with public procurement policy.

  127. When this document is produced, it will be a lot more clear for procurement officers to go about their business. Up until now it has been said in your submission that complex and bewildering situations occur when sourcing timber products and they are not yet fully equipped to resolve these.
  (Mr Andrew) That is the intention. There are many thousands of procurement officers and they will never be forest management experts or understand the nuances of certification schemes and independent verification. We actually have to provide them with the right sort of support and facilities to enable them to work.

  128. It is not just policy that stands there, as it were, on the shelf but all the support that they need to implement it? How much work is done on that?
  (Mr Andrew) That is being addressed as part of this study.

  129. Can I look briefly at the WWF offer which you mentioned and could you expand a bit on that? You mention three departments that are now engaged in this. What kind of progress has been made on that?
  (Mr Andrew) The WWF made that offer back on 27 July 2000 and I accepted on behalf of Government that we would work with them if we could find a suitable project. That was mentioned in parliamentary questions recently. I have written to heads of procurement and asked them to have a look to see which projects are coming up that would be suitable. I have talked about it with the Timber Buyers Group too. It has been disappointing to me that nothing has come forward as a suggestion up to now. I have not actually got the details with me but the Scottish Executive has offered to work with WWF and myself on a project in one of their agencies in Scotland. There is an office of DIFD in Scotland too for new build or refurbishment that is being offered and there are, I think, two more, but I have not got the details with me. Some of these are as a result of the review that is being carried out since 13 May. We have not got all the responses back to that. I anticipate there will be more offers to work with WWF.

  Is there a danger that perhaps more than one of these particular projects will run foul of procurement rules themselves as they stand, the international rules of procurement?
  (Mr Andrew) That would be the point of using them because it would be for us to work with WWF and the buyers and the project managers to make sure that does not run foul and to overcome those particular difficulties.

  130. These procurement rules, the international rules, have been there for quite some time. Have we actually negotiated around those rules, given the consequences they have obviously had about not protecting sustainable timber, and probably a whole range of other products as well? It is a twin-track approach on sustainable products but also looking at the rules that prevent us from obtaining that.
  (Mr Andrew) The Office of Government and Commerce is, I believe, the department that negotiates changes to Directives and procurement rules. I am not sure about WTO because I guess that is the Department of Trade. Certainly there has been an interpretive document that the European Commission published about a year or so ago. I know that OGC worked hard to make sure that recognised the flexibility needed to buy timber from sustainable and legal sources. In fact, that is actually mentioned in that document as one of the examples.

  131. Has DEFRA made any contributions to those discussions?
  (Mr Andrew) Yes. I was personally involved in discussing and liaising with OGC as well on that particular issue. As a result of that, it has now been clarified by the Commission that public buyers can look at what are known as production and process methods, whereas before the Commission's line was that that was something in which buyers should not be interested. That means that we can actually look at the way trees are grown, harvested and managed effectively as a production process. I see that as quite a significant step forward.

Mr Owen Jones

  132. I would like to take you back to a question that Joan Walley was asking earlier about the way you exercise your function with DEFRA having an overall responsibility for sustainable development. In your work with other departments, who do you report to when you believe that another department is not acting with sufficient commitment or is not carrying out what you believe they should be carrying out?
  (Mr Andrew) I have a line manager to whom I could report back, but to date I have not conducted what I would call an audit of other departments. I have been to see other departments and worked to explain the policy. I have been to various events and conferences and given addressed on the topic. When requested, by either e-mail or to make a visit, I have done that as well with other government departments, but I have not gone there actually to audit their procurement.

  133. You do not necessarily have to do a full audit to have concerns. What is the point

  of having an overall responsibility unless you have some way of exercising that?
  (Mr Andrew) I guess that, had I been aware of something I thought was contrary to either the policy on timber procurement or to public procurement policy generally, I would have alerted that department to that and copied my line manager in on it.

Joan Walley

  134. You were not aware?
  (Mr Andrew) Of the whole situation?

  135. Yes, you just were not aware that it was a wholly flawed policy that was being carried out?
  (Mr Andrew) I was aware that it would not be easy to implement. That was a feeling more than having factual evidence of it.

Mr Owen Jones

  136. I find it difficult to understand how you could not have had any concerns about any department whatsoever that you would want to make known to somebody.
  (Mr Andrew) At this moment, I cannot recall a particular concern of that description. As I say, I have been involved in giving advice. People phone me up, write to me and ask me to go and see them to talk about particular procurement issues.

  137. You do not report directly to the Minister, not even your own Minister?
  (Mr Andrew) I reported to the Minister in the case of the DEFRA project where I realised that the wrong, to use that description, kind of wood was being contemplated. In that particular case, I decided that it was serious enough to do that.

  138. You reported on your own department then?
  (Mr Andrew) That was my own department, yes, as it happened.

  139. So it is not an example of carrying out and having an overall responsibility. There is no example.
  (Mr Andrew) Yes, that is correct.


previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 17 July 2002