The Evolution of DEFRA
OUTLINE PROPOSALS FOR A NEW APPROACH TO DELIVERING
EFFECTIVE POLICY AND SUPPORT TO RURAL DEVELOPMENT IN ENGLAND
DEFRA has been created in name. It objective,
as set out when the Government after the June 2001 election, was
to unify the approach to the countryside, and to ensure that all
its competing interests were dealt with in a coherent and holistic
Since June, the pressure to reform the CAP and
the basis of agricultural support has grown partly through the
need to develop a sustainable system in the light of CAP cash
limits, the enlargement of the Union, and the preparations for
a new world trade agreement.
Foot and Mouth, and the aftermath of BSE have
created a crisis in confidence that the farming industry is not
regulated, developed, or supported in the public interest. Large
parts of the rural economy feel disenfranchised not only from
a perceived urban bias of Government and Parliament, but also
from decision making in the countryside itself. It appears to
them that they are denied a stake in determining the future shape
of the economic countryside, and that the "cosy cabal"
of the agricultural establishment with Government continues.
Equally, there is a perception amongst the breadth
of farmers (who would not class themselves as the agricultural
establishment) that environmental interests are being pandered
to without thought as to the economic consequences for farming
and the rural economy generally. The sustainable use of the land
to produce economic benefit for rural people seems to have been
Finally, the smaller farmers/processors feel
themselves to be under a regulatory burden, which can be sustained
only if you are a big operator with large economies of scale.
The local processing, distribution and marketing systems have
collapsed, and Government seems luke-warm at enabling effective
co-operatives to be established which might provide the basis
of redressing the economic power and trading imbalance away from
national systems run by the relatively few supermarkets.
The consequence of all this is that there is
an essential need to reform the delivery of rural policy, and
to develop a means of enabling economic activity to flourish effectively.
This needs to include a massive simplification of the system which
requires what is basically a sole-trader community, to deal with
agencies as diverse as the local Government Office, National Park
and local government authorities, English Nature, the Environment
Agency, the Countryside Agency, DEFRA officers, Health and Safety,
the Food Standards Agency, the Government Veterinary Service,
It is suggested that DEFRA moves all aspects
of delivery, and the auditing of those services along with general
rural proofing responsibilities to separate executive agencies.
The development of policy would remain firmly in DEFRA, but its
delivery through support and services would be run as executive
agency businesses with clear financial and service performance
targets. Under a single Rural Economic Development and Support
Agency (REDSA), Government would provide a service that enabled
businesses to grow and succeed, acting as an interface with other
regulatory agencies, and providing a flexible service which can
respond to radical changes in policy.
The Countryside Agency would loose its service
delivery function. It would have the two complementary tasks of
auditing the effectiveness of policy and support delivered by
REDSA, and to undertake its current Rural Advocacy and Proofing
role. Divorced from seeking funds itself for programme delivery,
it can become an effective and independent "rural inspectorate".
The basic premise is that Government wishes
to see a rural economywhile still based on the economically
and environmentally sustainable use of the landwhich is
much more flexible about the range of business activities that
will be creatednot just food and farming, but other products
related to recreation, landscape and biological diversity, and
It also presumes that Government wishes to see
a move away from production and price support, to fixed investments
in a wide range of rural economic activitythrough either
infrastructure or organisational start-up grants (eg equipment
costs for a small scale abattoir, establishment of a food supply
co-operative, etc), or the direct purchase of rural products for
which there is not a competitive market (eg water and flood management,
species conservation, etc). In other words, a British equivalent
of the French Land Management contract system, but spreading out
into non-agricultural rural businesses as well.
The pivot of the REDSA will be an individual
officer who interacts with a rural business (a farm, livery yard,
hotelier, seed merchant). That officer will be the conduit for
all submissions for assistance, receipt of payments, and interaction
with appropriate regulatory bodies (both those within and outside
DEFRA's orbit). This person will look at the business operation
as a wholeexactly as a farmer looks at his or her farm.
They will be charged with enabling that business, and to assisting
in its change and development. Teams of officers on a regional
basis will deal with institutions or communities (such as market
towns, local authorities, community groups, co-operatives, and
voluntary groups such as wildlife trusts). They will deliver the
same support as officers assigned to businesses. The team approach
will try to create synergy and coherence between institutional
and community change, and economic development. The new payments
agency established by DEFRA will be separate from the local and
regional structure of REDSA for audit and fraud avoidance purposes,
but its national director would report to the chief executive
The pivot of the reformed Countryside Agency
would be its Chair as Rural Advocate. Its approach would be similar
to that of the Chief Inspectors of Schools and of Prisons. It
would monitor and report on delivery measured against not only
short-term objectives, but also against long-term Government strategy.
It would also review all Government legislative and operational
plans across all departments, and report on its likely rural impact
("rural proofing"). It would, on the basis of both these
exercises, develop and recommend policy changes.
This structural approach as been well tried
and proven to be successful in a number of large Government operations
including social benefits delivery, physical and mental health
services, and schools management and inspection.