Response to Specific Recommendations
(a) Even though the Departmental Report is available
for no cost on the internet, not all those interested have access
to that medium. We therefore recommend that the Department ensure
that the Report is in future more reasonably priced (paragraph
The Department is looking at the possibility of reducing
the cover price in consultation with the Stationery Office (TSO)
which set the price of this year's report.
TSO is a private company, which meets the cost of
printing and distributing the report, and re-coups this cost through
the cover price. This is standard practice across many Departments
and DEFRA could only reduce the cover price by offering a direct
subsidy to TSO.
The cost of comparable Department reports published
by TSO is shown in the table below.
b) To be of use to Parliament and other stakeholders, an Annual
Report by a Government Department should primarily contain information
about the performance of the Department over the previous twelve
months - and the information must be presented in a meaningful
way. The correct balance has not been struck in DEFRA's Annual
Report between the sections introducing the new Department and
dealing with its 'achievements' and aspirations in extremely vague
terms, and the more useful sections dealing with expenditure and
performance against set targets. The Department should also ensure
that all aspects of its work are dealt with in the Report, including
agriculture and fisheries. In future we recommend that tht Report
contain more 'hard' financial data and information about performance
against measures such as Public Service Agreements, and less waffle.
We further recommend that, even if new Public Service Agreements
are reached as part of the Spending Review, performance against
outstanding Agreements continues to be included in the Departmental
Report - the current targets should not just be abandoned. Moreover,
when the Department gives evidence to the Select Committee it
should ensure that the necessary expert witnesses are available
to answer our questions (paragraph 12).
DEFRA notes the Committee's comments and recommendations and regrets
that the more streamlined format of the Departmental Annual Report
2002 did not fulfil its expectations. It accepts the Committee's
recommendation that the Report should contain more information
on the Department's performance and will ensure that the Report
for 2003 does this.
The Department accepts the Committee's recommendation that future
Reports should continue to include information on performance
on outstanding Public Service Agreement targets. DEFRA will also
ensure that the necessary expert witnesses are available to answer
the Committee's questions where specific areas the Committee wishes
to discuss are identified.
(c) We recommend that in future Departmental Reports more space
is allocated to the provision of financial data, that the figures
provided are broken down to indicate in more detail how resources
have been consumed, and that much fuller explanations of the data
are given (paragraph 14).
The Departmental Annual Report 2002 followed guidance from HM
Treasury that: the core contents should be streamlined; the number
of core financial tables should be reduced; more detailed and
technical information which would be published separately to Parliament
should be omitted. The guidance also suggested that the Report
should look both forwards and backwards. In the light of the Committee's
comments and bearing in mind the range of reports that Departments
are now required to produce, DEFRA is discussing with HM Treasury
what other information could be included in the Annual Report,
in order to meet the Committee's recommendation.
(d) We recommend that the Department look again at whether
the level of detail it has provided tallies with the Treasury
guidelines, and whether those guidelines prevent greater
detail being provided. If they do, we recommend that DEFRA urgently
discuss amendment of the guidelines with the Treasury: the level
of detail currently given is not acceptable (paragraph 15).
The Departmental Annual Report 2002 followed guidance from HM
Treasury for a more streamlined report, as explained in the response
to recommendation (c), and the level of detail tallied with the
guidelines. The Government accepts that Treasury guidelines do
not prevent Departments from providing greater detail.
(e) It is extremely difficult for Parliament and others to
keep track of the expenditure of the Department if the figures
in the Annual Report are inaccurate. We recommend that DEFRA as
a matter of urgency examine the accuracy of the data in the Departmental
Report, and issue corrigenda as necessary. We trust that the errors
made in this year's Report will not be repeated (paragraph 16).
The Select Committee and Treasury have previously encouraged the
Department to adopt an objective-based approach to recording its
financial data. This has given rise to an Estimate structured
by Departmental objectives, with financial figures being loaded
on the Treasury database in a similar fashion. The intention was
to adopt an objective-based approach for Tables 5.1 to 5.5 in
the Departmental report, using the figures loaded on the central
The complexity of reloading the existing financial data after
the June 2001 Machinery of Government changes, the incorporation
of the new Departmental objectives, and the subsequent decision
to present the Tables on a functional basis led to a breakdown
in the quality assurance of the figures, which the Department
In order to prevent a reoccurrence of such errors, DEFRA is looking
to populate the database on a functional basis, with the facility
to derive objective-based information as required, and is continuing
to work with the Treasury to achieve this. In addition, the Department's
procedures for assuring the quality of the figures are being enhanced
and strengthened. An erratum slip has been issued to advise of
the errors in the published Tables in the Departmental Report
2002 and work is in hand to re-issue corrected Tables.
(f) The omission of data relating to planed spending, particularly
in the current financial year, is wholly unacceptable (paragraph
The government will provide information on future spending plans
in the Departmental Report for 2003.
(g) Since the Permanent Secretary of DEFRA is not the accounting
officer for the two bodies, we recommend that data about the work
of the Forestry Commission and the Office of Water Services no
longer be included in the Departmental Annual Report, but is instead
published in separate annual reports of the two bodies, and if
necessary their accounting officers made available for questioning
The Department has explored with HM Treasury the Committee's recommendation
that the work of the Forestry Commission and the Office of Water
Services (OFWAT) should not be included in the Departmental Annual
Report. The Government accepts the Committee's recommendation
that information on OFWAT should not be included in DEFRA's future
Departmental Annual Reports, but published separately.
The Department, however, believes that the DEFRA Annual Report
should continue to include information on the work of the Forestry
Commission, as the Commission works closely with the Department
on an integrated approach to sustainable rural affairs. This common
approach has been further enhanced following the recent Forestry
(h) We trust that in future the style and above all the content
of the Departmental Report will be considerably improved (paragraph
The Department accepts the Committee's recommendation and is already
looking at ways to improve the style and content of the report
whilst working within HM Treasury guidelines.
(i) We recommend that the Department formulate an IT Strategy
as a matter of urgency, and delay any decision to outsource IT
delivery until the Strategy has been put in place (paragraph 21).
Development of DEFRA's IT strategy is overseen by the e-Business
Sub Committee of the Management Board. In addition, individual
IT programmes and projects are required to include a clear statement
of the business objectives they are intended to meet. The Department
also makes extensive use of 'Gateway Reviews' carried out by the
Office of Government Commerce to quality-assure its IT programmes
The Department's IT strategy is being further developed over the
next six months, as a matter of priority, so that there is a single
(1) describes how IT will help to deliver DEFRA's corporate
business objectives, incorporating the existing e-Business strategy
and the existing technical strategies; and
(2) explains governance arrangements and investment policies
for IT in the Department following the 2002 Spending Review, and
defines procurement strategies both before and after the planned
The IT outsourcing programme is being progressed as part of the
Developing DEFRA Change Programme. The outsource itself is currently
entering the phase in which the Business Case will be fully developed,
the Procurement Strategy refined, and the Statement of Service
Requirement (SSR) developed. The SSR will define the nature of
the IT services DEFRA needs over the next 5 to 10 years to underpin
its Business Objectives. This phase is currently planned to take
approximately six months, and will be developed in parallel with,
and drawing on, the development of the full IT Strategy. The work
on the IT Strategy will be completed and the outsource SSR finalised
early next year. The final decision on outsourcing IT delivery
will not be made until award of contract which, on current plans,
is not expected to be before March 2004.
(j) It would also be interesting to know how many graduate
recruits to the 'fast stream' of the home civil service put DEFRA
as their first choice of Department (paragraph 22).
Cabinet Office records show that the Home Civil Service recruited
204 fast streamers through its 2002 fast stream entry competition.
Of the 156 fast streamers who expressed a preference in 2002,
12 indicated that DEFRA would be their first choice of Department.
Following the initial recruitment stage, fast streamers attend
Open Days and visit Departments to learn more about the role of
the different Departments. The Department had 19 Fast Stream vacancies
during this period and was successful in recruiting candidates
to fill all of them.
(k) Turnover of staff on this scale in anything but the short-term
often indicates management failure and unclear objectives and
strategies. The staff of the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries
and Food, and now of DEFRA, have faced considerable upheaval,
first as a result of foot and mouth disease, and more recently
due to the creation of the new Department and subsequent efforts
to change culture and focus. There is little evidence of current
management capability to lead change in such difficult circumstances.
We recommend an external review of any Department change plan
and the competence available to deliver it. We further recommend
that the Department endeavours to set out clear career paths where
possible, and survey staff to gauge their assessment of the effectiveness
of management and levels of morale (paragraph 24).
The Department believes that it is important to understand the
context of the data on turnover provided to the Committee. The
figures provided were based on a standard format used in internal
reporting and were for permanent and casual staff, in the administrative
grades only, in core DEFRA and three of its agencies (the Pesticides
Safety Directorate, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and the
Veterinary Laboratories Agency). They were calculated using the
method recommended by the Cabinet Office: the number of staff
who have resigned over a specified period expressed as a percentage
of the population at the beginning of the period.
In order to provide the most up-to-date data then available, the
figures given to the Committee covered the period from 1 June
2001 to May 2002. However, this period was an exceptional one
and the figures cannot be considered representative as they include
data on ex-MAFF but not the corresponding data from ex-DETR, and
the Department was in an emergency staffing situation because
of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), when many staff were on casual
contracts or working for the Department on a temporary basis.
The staffing position was further complicated by the creation
of the Rural Payments Agency in October 2001.
The Department has looked again at the turnover during the period
from 1 June 2001 to 31 May 2002. If this period is divided in
two, more accurate information on turnover can be extracted, as
1 June 2001 - 31 December 2001: 6.4%
(Excludes ex-DETR staff because computer records were not assimilated
until January 2002)
1 January 2002 - 31 May 2002: 2.8%
As before, these figures cover the administrative grades. It should
be noted, however, that turnover rates vary by grade, with very
low turnover (2-3%) at middle/senior levels but with higher turnover
(around 20%) at the most junior grades, where there are more casual
appointments and the requirements are different.
Turnover is, of course, not necessarily a bad thing. It can help
to bring in people with new ideas. The issue is the level of staff
turnover. The figures for DEFRA need to be seen against comparable
|Resignation rate for all grades across the Civil Service in 2000/01
|Turnover of staff in job centres in 2000/01
| in 2001/02||= 10%
|Managers in the public sector in 2000
|Secretarial/administrative staff in the public sector in 2000
The Department notes the recommendation that there should be an
external review of any Departmental Change Plan and of the competence
available to deliver it. Earlier this year the Department undertook
jointly with the Office of Public Services Reform a Strategic
Review of its Change Programme. The findings of this Review have
helped the Department to identify the priority action areas for
the next stage of the Developing Defra Change Programme. These
priorities include an assessment of the skills and competence
of DEFRA's senior managers and action to fill any gaps, and the
development of a new Human Resources (HR) Strategy. The implementation
plan in support of the new HR Strategy will include work on career
paths. The next phase of the Change Programme will be subjected
to external review and validation through a process similar to
the Office of Government Commerce Gateway process for procurement
The first full DEFRA Staff Survey hs just been carried out and
includes questions seeking the views of staff on management and
(l) In future we will examine whether the Department is adequately
staffed to meet its objectives, including in the veterinary divisions
The Department notes this conclusion. As part of the outcome of
the 2002 Spending Review, it is preparing a pay and workforce
strategy which will set out DEFRA's current and future staffing
plans. These plans will include staff in the veterinary divisions.
(m) Obviously we agree with Mr Bender that the amount spent
on scientific research is not the criterion which determines its
usefulness and quality. Nevertheless, we are concerned by reports
of the erosion of the amount spent on scientific research by the
former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food over the past
twenty years - during which time BSE, foot and mouth disease,
genetically modified food and feeds and a host of other issues
have signalled just how important science is to the Department.
We recommend that DEFRA's review of the organisation of science
extend to its funding, and that if it is found that greater funding
is essential to the meeting the Department's key functions, the
Government will make it available without delay (paragraph 26).
DEFRA is committed to the use of high quality evidence in policy
making and to the development of a strong science base to support
this. It is committed to, at the least, maintaining its expenditure
on research in real terms over the 2002 Spending Review period.
The Department is currently re-examining its science capacity,
to make optimal use of its science budget. A review of DEFRA's
science and regulatory agencies is underway and will be completed
towards the end of the year. The aim of the review is to develop
a strategy which clarifies the role of DEFRA's science-based agencies
in contributing to the delivery of the Government's and in particular
of DEFRA's objectives; defines the two-way relationship between
the agencies and DEFRA (and the rest of Government), and provides
a sound basis for medium/long term planning and investment decisions.
The Department's Chief Scientific Adviser is reviewing the arrangements
for science in support of DEFRA policymaking. A key step in this
work will be the preparation of the 2003-2006 Science and Innovation
Strategy which will build on this and ensure that DEFRA has an
integrated and effective set of arrangements to deliver its future
(n) Whatever the reasons for it, we are extremely concerned
that, far from being on course to achieve the target set for bringing
into favourable condition 95 per cent of all nationally important
wildlife sites, in fact fewer such sites are in a favourable condition
now than they were two years ago. We recommend that the Department
make a commitment to achieving the target, and allocate sufficient
resources to ensure that the Public Service Agreement is met (paragraph
The Government remains committed to the achievement of the target
for improving the condition of Sites of Special Scientific Interest
(SSSIs), which has been reaffirmed as a target in DEFRA's new
Public Service Agreement. Additional resources were allocated
for this in the 2002 Spending Review settlement. In addition,
the Department will be reviewing its approach on this target,
drawing together all the relevant policy strands to address adverse
impacts on these sites. Some of the impacts originate outside
the designated sites and will require action on a much wider front;
they include agriculture, diffuse pollution, water quality and
quantity, flood and coastal defence and forestry amongst others.
The fact that progress has been slow reflects the significant
challenge involved and the lead-in time for improvements. But
there is no evidence of an overall decline in SSSI condition.
The baseline figure of 60%, set two years ago, was a projection
based on assessments of the condition of SSSI land under new common
monitoring standards agreed with all the statutory conservation
agencies. However, only 55% of the land designated as an SSSI
had been assessed at that time. Since then, further SSSI land
has been assessed, and the figure of 56.6% in favourable condition
was based on all the assessments done by 31 March 2002 (by which
time 76% of the land had been assessed). The condition of the
land assessed more recently has turned out to be, on average,
slightly worse than that assessed earlier. All SSSI land is due
to be assessed by March 2003, and from then on progress reports
will be based on a full set of baseline data.
Despite the enormous impacts of FMD on farming activity there
was a modest improvement in the last 12 months in condition of
the initial 55% area on which the SSSI target was set. This amounted
to an additional 2,800 hectares brought within the PSA target.
(o) We are disappointed that the Public Service Agreement target
relating to the provision of secondary treatment for all sewage
discharges from towns with a population of at least 15,000 was
not met. We recommend that the Department take steps to ensure
that it is achieved as soon as possible (paragraph 29).
At 31 March 2002, 99% of sewage discharges (536 out of a total
of 544) had had secondary treatment implemented in England. That
represents an additional 19 sewage discharges receiving secondary
treatment since the end of 2000. Of the 8 discharges in England
that did not meet the deadline, one now has secondary treatment
and a further three are expected to achieve this standard by the
end of this year. Progress on the four remaining discharges has
been significantly affected by the need to receive planning consent
from local authorities.
The information submitted to the Committee in the supplementary
memorandum included the town of Prestatyn in Wales, which is now
within the remit of the National Assembly for Wales.
The Department and the Environment Agency will continue to monitor
progress on the few outstanding schemes to ensure that the companies
involved complete them as soon as possible.
(p) We recommend that DEFRA set as one of its new Public Service
Agreement targets a deadline by which the process of implementing
the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 will be completed (paragraph
The Government agrees with this recommendation. Defra's new Public
Service Agreement for 2003 to 2006 retains the target of opening
up access to all registered common land, mountain, moor, heath
and down by the end of 2005. The Government is fully committed
to meeting that target.
The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 involves some complicated
processes - that is precisely because great care was taken to
balance both the needs of people who want access in the countryside
and the needs of land owners and managers. That is also why there
are three stages in the mapping process.
First, the Countryside Agency publishes draft maps. Individuals
and organisations who wnt to promote access (such as the Ramblers
Association) and those who manage land (including their representatives
like the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) can object
because particular land has been included or left out.
Second, the Agency will publish the provisional maps. Land managers
will then have formal right of appeal to the Secretary of State.
Third, the conclusive maps will be published.
Consultations on draft maps of open country and registered common
land for the lower North West and South East were completed earlier
this year. Since the Committee reported, the Countryside Agency
has begun consultation on a draft map for Central Southern England.
In addition, regulations came into force on 29 July enabling the
Agency to publish provisional and conclusive maps the intermediate
and final stages of the mapping process for each region.
Under the Agency's mapping programme, two provisional maps are
to be issued this year. The first, for the South East, was published
at the end of July but was subsequently withdrawn to allow a very
small number of errors to be corrected; this is not expected to
compromise the Government's ability to meet the PSA target. The
second provisional map, for the lower North West, will be issued
before Christmas, as will a draft map for the neighbouring region,
the upper North West.
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
18 September 2002