Summary of conclusions and recommendations
Presentation of the Report
(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 9).
(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 the 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).
(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).
(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).
(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).
(f)The omission of data relating to planned spending, particularly
in the current financial year, is wholly unacceptable (paragraph
(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
(h)We trust that in future the style and above all the content
of the Departmental Report will be considerably improved (paragraph
(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).
(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).
(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 endeavour 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).
(l)In future we will examine whether the Department is adequately
staffed to meet its objectives, including 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 meeting the Department's key functions, the Government
will make it available without delay (paragraph 26).
(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 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
(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).
(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