Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence



  The establishment of DEFRA provides a real opportunity to shape a new future for the management of the countryside which promotes sustainable development. This will only come about, however, through sustained effort, a step change from the status quo, and the development of supporting mechanisms for integration. This may require some new mechanisms, dedicated to the task. Rather than simply adding new processes, it will also be necessary to amend existing working practices and priorities in order to deliver the cultural shift required.

  Below we set out opportunities for change, under the general headings of People, Politics and Processes. We hope these will be useful as DEFRA considers how to take forward its new agenda.

  People—the success or otherwise of the new department will depend on the buy in from its staff, at all levels.

    —  Defining inductions—are new staff aware of what the department is striving to achieve?

    —  Using staff appraisals—do annual appraisals enable managers to explain how the departmental changes might affect staff on a daily basis?

    —  Promoting training—is training provided to new and existing staff?

    —  Publish a guide to the new department—so there is transparency over how the department operates.

    —  Providing assertiveness training for those in front line positions—so that officials feel comfortable questioning the status quo.

    —  Making use of secondees—bringing an outside perspective can help identify new methods of working and linkages which could be made.

    —  Providing rewards for those who deliver new ideas—providing an incentive for staff.

    —  Convening roundtable seminars to discuss the new approach (with Ministerial support)—ask officials how they think things could change and champion their ideas.

    —  Ensuring physical integration (DEFRA buildings)—the value of face to face contact shouldn't be under-estimated.

    —  Making sure appointments reinforce the new approach—new blood in key positions can help reinforce the changing environment providing it does not alienate existing staff.

    —  Establish a unit to help deliver change—a unit on its own will not deliver change, but it can act as the progress chaser and ensure that the cultural transition is seen as a continuous one.

  Politics—political leadership can send the right signals to staff and external agencies that change is required, and to break inertia with existing arrangements.

    —  Amend Ministerial briefs—do they reinforce integration or existing "silos"?

    —  Encourage active participation by the Management Board—does the Management Board receive regular reports on progress and make it, its responsibility to see that change is delivered?

    —  Framing PSA Targets—how they're written, whether they are cross cutting and the outcomes sought all can help integration.

    —  Championing the Sustainable Development Strategy—can provide a vision of what the new DEFRA is about in a single document, including stepping stones to achieve it.

    —  Using parliamentary statements/press releases—do these always refer back to how the statement on that day relates to the new approach being adopted by DEFRA?

    —  Reviewing outside bodies—others outside the department (such as the DEFRA Select Committee) can sometimes act as a spur for change.

  Processes—the civil service frequently works by procedure and changing the hidden wiring of Government requires the process by which thousands of decisions are taken by desk officers to change.

    —  Publishing guidance—is guidance available to staff and those who report to the department detailing what the changes will mean in practice?

    —  Championing policy appraisal—is environmental appraisal and rural proofing rigorously pursued within the department?

    —  Developing joint budgets—these can again bring disparate parts of an organisation together.

    —  Reviewing reporting structures—cross cutting issues can require new structures for reporting.

    —  Delivering a new Departmental Annual Report—the keynote document for DEFRA officials can report on progress in delivering change internally.

    —  Promoting change within existing Agencies—do these reinforce the existing silo's or reinforce the new approach?

    —  Looking ahead—do strategic management teams within the department identify what work, policy announcements etc. are exemplars of the new approach, or alternatively represent real challenges and require closer attention?

    —  Defining indicators, targets, timetables—tried and tested approaches to putting the spot light on the need to deliver changes.

    —  Sharing information (IT)—can people be brought together electronically?

    —  Using research—does the research budget of DEFRA respond to the challenges ahead and the new agenda, what information is lacking?

  Demonstrating that a new Government department is different from what it inherited will take some time. Nevertheless, the Spending Review, the development of the departmental Sustainable Development Strategy, and the response to the Food and Farming Commission all provide significant opportunities to show that DEFRA is genuinely committed to a new way forward.

December 2001

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