Memorandum submitted by The National Trust
1. The National Trust welcomes this opportunity
to contribute to the Committee's inquiry into the role of DEFRA.
As the country's largest conservation body and farmer and as a
major rural business we have extensive relationships with and
a great interest in the Department and its operations.
2. The Trust welcomed the creation of the
new Department in 2001 and recognised the new opportunities it
provides for both rural areas and the environment in bringing
a more integrated approach. We identified cultural change within
the Departmentto focus on delivery and integrate agriculture
with other policy areasas a priority and the need for DEFRA
to be visibly different from MAFF in its style and approach. We
also expressed particular concerns about the potential dislocation
of urban and rural policy (especially in the wake of the Rural
and Urban White Papers in late 2000) and the need for effective
integration with key policy areas for implementation, notably
planning, housing and transport, in other Departments.
3. Our initial assessment of the Department
after the first 12 months is that it has:
Moved quickly and effectively to
establish internal structures, clear aims and objectives and strategic
Made important progress towards integrating
with other Government departments at a regional level.
Much work to do to in integrating
its own operations, especially on the environment and the links
between farming and rural policy.
Singularly failed to make any appreciable
impact on key policy developments in land use planning and transport
despite their environmental and rural significance.
Been a major disappointment in making
only slow progress in realising the opportunities for far reaching
improvements to farming policy in the wake of foot and mouth and
the Curry Commission. This could also be a catalyst for DEFRA's
own internal development.
Notably struggled to move from policy
development to delivery on farming policy, been risk averse and
underestimated the potential of those outside Government to help
develop new approaches.
4. The rest of our submission expands on
those areas of particular interest to the Committee:
5. DEFRA's vision is both wide-ranging and
ambitious, setting an appropriate framework within which the Department
can achieve its aims and objectives. The publication of Working
for the essentials of life is very welcome, although lacking
an implementation plan or key performance indicators through which
to assess performance.
6. It is too soon properly to assess progress
but the Department is noticeably more focused on farming and international
environmental policy than other areas and has moved very slowly
on wider rural issues (notably the Rural White Paper) and "modernising"
the way it works. The Department also has significant progress
to make in exercising its influence across Whitehall.
7. The establishment of DEFRA signalled
a welcome change in focus, particularly on farming and food policy,
which offered significant opportunities for better integration.
These have not yet been realised. The Department's current focus
appears to be on farming and international environmental policy
and too little importance is currently being given to wider rural
policy and internal change.
8. An important test of the new Department
is that it is visibly different to MAFF and yet too much weight
is still being given to the commodity divisions and their old
MAFF role in distributing production subsidies. DEFRA's priority
now is to work towards sustainable food and farming, and the way
it develops and delivers policy should be redesigned to take account
of its new objectives. Across important areas of its brief, such
as farming, the challenge lies in taking forward the consensus
for change and this requires both more effective policy integration
and new ways of working that are focused more on delivery and
implementation than policy development.
9. We are concerned, for example, that DEFRA's
approach to the Curry Commission report has not been to identify
it as marking a point of consensus from which to move forward
and debate the how of policy, but to re-open debates on the policy
questions already addressed by the Commission. This has been a
major failing, for example, of the "regional roadshows"
which could have been used to road test delivery models rather
than revisit the fundamentals of policy direction. With important
exceptions, such as on agri-environment policy, the Department
also lacks confidence in working with others outside Government
in developing models of policy delivery. This has not only slowed
the momentum for change but also missed an opportunity for developing
new internal ways of working focused on outputs rather than process.
10. The delivery of farming policy will
require more flexibility at a local level, with different solutions
needed for different parts of the country. DEFRA will need to
take more risks to achieve change on the scale required, by piloting
new initiatives, ring-fencing funding for policy development and
testing, and ensuring it learns from the approach other Government
departments take to delivery.
11. Implementation of the Water Framework
Directive will provide a similar challenge, with the Water Quality
Division being responsible for meeting the targets and the agri-environment
programme and Rural Affairs Directorate having the funding to
provide incentives and training for farmers.
12. DEFRA would also be better equipped
to deliver its objectives if it were to think more widely about
the links between its own work and that of other departments.
For example, there is great potential for further exploration
of the positive links between environment, food, rural and health
policy, and the significance of DEFRA's work to the Government's
quality of life agenda. DEFRA should also work with DfES to tackle
the legacy of poor investment in skills in the land-based sector.
Close working with DTI is needed to meet the needs of small business
set up and financed by DEFRA given the importance of the small
business sector in rural areas.
13. In boosting its performance and reshaping
its forces around policy delivery, DEFRA should make use of two
particularly important tools. It has a large research budget,
which it should ensure is deployed to full effect so that it makes
an innovative contribution to policy development and delivery.
It also has a vast array of Non-Departmental Public Bodies and
Executive Agencies to inform, guide and deliver its policies.
Many of these reflect the needs of the pastsuch as boosting
agricultural productionrather than those of the future.
These bodies should be culled, reformed and retargeted to help
deliver DEFRA's objectives. The recently announced review of science-based
agencies should represent the start of a much wider process.
WILDLIFE & COUNTRYSIDE
14. We are concerned that the transfer of
these two directorates to DEFRA has not resulted in the kind of
changes that were envisaged when the new Department was set up.
There is a concern that the internationally regarded work of the
Environmental Protection Group has been downgraded and there is
too little evidence of integrated working across the Department.
Surprisingly, DEFRA has not yet developed its own sustainable
development strategy and the expected synergy between farming
and environmental work has failed to materialise in a noticeably
different way. The Department is missing important opportunities
as a result.
15. Environmental Protection and Wildlife
and Countryside also seem to have suffered through the dilution
of some of the important working relationships that operated in
the former DETR, especially on transport, planning and housing.
These have major implications for rural and environmental policy
and planning transport policies in particular have been going
through a major period of review and development. DEFRA has been
barely visible in key policy debates, including, for example,
on the internal working groups which developed the Planning Green
Paper without any DEFRA input. Where it has exercised a role,
for example in relation to the Hasting bypasses it has too often
been at the "end of pipe" when problems have emerged
and controversy set in.
16. Rural policy has been a casualty of
the Department's focus on farming policy and the Department still
has much work to do in demonstrating its wider rural role beyond
farming. The lack of progress on the Rural White Paper is a particular
disappointment given the momentum that its preparation helped
develop. The establishment of the national and regional Rural
Affairs Forums is welcome but these need a much clearer brief
and sharper focus if they are to be useful. The Department also
needs to do more to track progress and invigorate the debate stimulated
by the Rural White Paper. This would enable it to work more effectively
on the front foot in relation to rural policy and the forthcoming
national conference in the Autumn provides an opportunity to do
17. There is no doubt, however, that DEFRA's
rural performance will be judged principally on its ability to
implement the recommendations of the Curry Report. This is a once-in-a-generation
opportunity radically to reform the direction of farming policy
with far reaching benefits.