Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Tenth Report


The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has agreed to the following




DEFRA has taken on two, related roles: in sustainable development and in the promotion of the interests of rural areas. It faces challenges on many fronts: to ensure that, internally, staff adopt the new goals, and work practices are put in place to ensure that both are pursued; and externally, to develop the means and the confidence to ensure that its voice is heard across Government and in other agencies. To meet such challenges the Department must undergo a period of structural and cultural change. We have doubts about the abilities of management to oversee such a period of change, and about whether the Department has the strength in depth to administer complex programmes in a way acceptable to its stakeholders, notably business. We believe that the Department must understand the scale of the task ahead and we look forward to seeing a steady improvement in the delivery of its objectives.


1. In its manifesto for the General Election of 2001, the Labour Party signalled that it was "committed to create a new department to lead renewal in rural areas - a Department for Rural Affairs".[1] Following the election the proposed Department for Rural Affairs became the new Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). It took over all the responsibilities of the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and of the 'green' parts of the former Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, as well as certain responsibilities of the Home Office. A fuller description of the remit of the Department is set out below.

2. A year after the creation of the new Department we decided to examine whether it had succeeded in establishing a role for itself, and particularly whether it had been able to bring together its diverse responsibilities and objectives in a coherent way. In May 2002 we invited written evidence from interested parties,[2] and in June and July we took evidence from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), the National Trust, English Heritage and Lord Whitty, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Lords), and officials, from DEFRA.[3] In addition, individual members of the Committee who meet regularly with interested parties - in business, the public sector and pressure groups - which have dealings with the Department have brought the information and experience of these contacts to bear. We are most grateful to all those who submitted evidence to us, and who otherwise assisted our work.

3. Immediately prior to taking evidence in this inquiry we took evidence from the Permanent Secretary at DEFRA, Mr Brian Bender CB, about the Department's Annual Report. We subsequently published a report about that matter.[4] We draw attention to that report and the evidence because much of what was covered is also relevant to this inquiry.

"A new Department, a new Agenda"

"DEFRA was created to improve the delivery of what Ministers and stakeholders expect of us. Our objective is to be more than just the sum of our parts. Creating a new Department is a massive project and involves a wide range of policy and administrative functions coming together. The new Department brings together:

  • the Environment Protection Group from the former DETR;
  • the Wildlife and Countryside Directorate from the former DETR;
  • all the functions of the former MAFF [the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food]; and responsibility for certain animal welfare issues and hunting with hounds from the Home Office.

"DEFRA will sponsor a number of important agencies and Non-Departmental Public Bodies and has a range of statutory and non-statutory advisory bodies".[5]

The new mandate

4. The new Department's remit is extremely broad. It stretches from the administration of subsidy payments to farmers to overall responsibility for the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol in the United Kingdom, taking in rural development, fisheries, waste disposal, water and flooding, conservation, animal health, pollution and some elements of food safety.[6] Much of its remit is covered by European legislation, and DEFRA therefore has a significant role to play in negotiations within Europe.[7] The breadth of DEFRA's responsibilities has led to concern about its ability to give sufficient priority to all areas of its work. Such worries were raised by our witnesses, many of whom asked whether the environment, or agriculture, had been sidelined, how the Department would address rural affairs, and whether the concept of 'sustainable development' gave adequate over-arching direction to the Department.

5. Although responsibility for policy-making for rural areas, and for the environment, has been located within DEFRA, other Departments are responsible for policies which impact on such matters. For example, there are particular concerns about the delivery of services such as schools, public transport, post offices and policing in rural areas; DEFRA obviously has no direct control over such matters. The old Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions was established because of a desire to put transport and planning policy squarely in the context of wider environmental policy: now it appears that DEFRA can only negotiate with other Departments in seeking to ensure that their policies take account of the environment.

Putting sustainable development at the centre of Government policy

6. DEFRA has said that promoting sustainable development is its principal aim.[8] In evidence to us in November 2001 the Secretary of State said that in creating DEFRA the "thinking was that if you are to have sustainable development as a philosophy spreading throughout government, it was essential to have a Department that had that as its central goal".[9] The Department's Sustainable Development Strategy, Foundations for our Future, was launched on 18 June 2002.[10] In it, DEFRA affirmed that its overall aim was "achieving sustainable development", and said that it had "lead responsibility for promoting sustainable development across Government, within the United Kingdom and internationally".[11]

7. The Government defines sustainable development as "a better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come".[12] To achieve that aim requires four objectives to be met "at the same time, in the United Kingdom and the world as a whole:

  • social progress which meets the needs of everyone;
  • effective protection of the environment;
  • prudent use of natural resources; and
  • maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment".[13]

In other words, 'sustainable development' encompasses economic and social objectives, as well as concerns for the environment. The Local Government Association told us that it was concerned that 'sustainable development' "appears to focus on environmental sustainability, rather than on an over-arching approach to integrate social, economic and environmental thinking into all decision-making across Government".[14] It is apparent that pursuit of the objective of sustainable development will include the pursuit of environmental goals.[15]

8. In order to take forward the sustainable development agenda within Government, DEFRA has sought close contacts with those Government Departments responsible for transport and for planning and local government; with the Department of Trade and Industry to address resource productivity and corporate social responsibility; and with the Treasury to ensure that sustainable development is taken into account in departmental bids for resources. Moreover the Department chairs the Cabinet Sub-committee of Green Ministers, which considers "the impacts of all Government policies on sustainable development".[16]

9. Notwithstanding the Department's commitment to the idea, there have been concerns that the creation of DEFRA has removed sustainable development, and particularly concern for the environment, from the heart of Government. In Autumn 2001 the RSPB observed that "welcome though DEFRA is, the danger is that it becomes sidelined within Government as a policy ghetto for green issues", and Friends of the Earth said that "environment officials and Ministers have been marginalised, and distanced from the big decisions".[17] The Institute for Public Policy Research observed that before the 2001 Election the environment had been championed by the Deputy Prime Minister, from a Department "with clout": it said that "the restructuring of Government Departments appears to have downgraded the issue".[18]

10. Such concerns persist. In evidence to this inquiry the RSPB repeated that it was "concerned that the environment portfolio has been marginalised within government by the new departmental arrangements".[19] The CPRE observed that "the environment overall is becoming divorced from other Government policy decisions".[20] It went on to say that "a key concern remains the relationship between DEFRA and other Government Departments. The Greening Government initiative no longer benefits from a senior member of the Government championing it, and the use of environmental appraisal elsewhere in Government is distinctly patchy".[21] The RSPB told us that "DEFRA's own sustainable development strategy actually encapsulates the problems that face it as a department, in that it clearly only feels empowered to act on sustainable development under its own remit and on its own terms ... one of its real flaws is that it does not face and address these kind of bigger picture issues of how the Government lives up to its targets on energy and on transport and on some of these issues that do not actually fall under DEFRA's own remit".[22] And English Nature observed that "the environment more generally, and nature conservation in particular, appears less visible in DEFRA than in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions".[23]

11. Lord Whitty conceded that many of the policy areas which would be affected by the promotion of sustainable development lay outside DEFRA's direct control. He said that "in any direct sense the only capital programmes with which we are concerned are those that fall on our budgets and on our agencies, which is a relatively small part of the totality. We are engaged, for example ... in ensuring that transport projects have a strong long-term environmental dimension to them. Therefore, again we have an influence beyond the area of capital spending for which we are responsible which frankly is pretty limited".[24] Nevertheless, he reiterated that DEFRA is "the body that is charged with ensuring that the whole of Whitehall and the government agencies operate on a sustainable development basis, and take sustainability as a benchmark for their policies".[25]

12. Putting sustainable development, particularly concern for the environment, at the heart of policy-making is vital. We welcome the fact that DEFRA has adopted as one of its primary roles the promotion of sustainability. There is no intrinsic reason why taking responsibility for sustainable development and the environment away from the old Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and locating it in DEFRA should have removed it from the heart of Government - provided that mechanisms are put in place to ensure that DEFRA is listened to, and that its proposals are acted upon by other Departments. Whether or not those mechanisms will operate effectively is rightly the matter of some concern, a point we return to later in this Report.

DEFRA as champion of rural affairs

13. Like sustainable development, DEFRA's responsibility for rural affairs takes it into areas of policy and expenditure for which it has no direct responsibility. Lord Whitty agreed that "the rural affairs dimension lacks direct budget and direct levers". He observed that "historically ... it has been less intensively staffed than those areas where there is direct government legislation or direct government subsidy and so in staffing terms it probably looks weaker".[26] In any event, the National Trust told us, "the Department is noticeably more focussed on farming and international environmental policy than other areas and has moved very slowly on wider rural issues".[27]

14. Rural areas face challenges which differ from those facing urban areas. It is important that the particular issues of rural areas are taken into account in Government policy-making, and we welcome the fact that DEFRA's second primary role is as the champion of rural areas. Although the Department is responsible for many aspects of policy which affect rural communities, it is vital that, as with sustainable development, mechanisms are put in place to enable DEFRA to exercise influence over other Government Departments to ensure that they take account of the rural dimension in policy-making. It is the effectiveness of such mechanisms which are of concern, a point which, again, we return to below. In addition, we are concerned that DEFRA should recognise that it has two principal roles: as the advocate of sustainable development, and as the promoter of the interests of rural areas. We recommend that the Department now acknowledge explicitly that these are its primary roles, and that they are of equal importance to its work. DEFRA should also recognise its responsibility to help explain to urban Britain the issues for which it is responsible.


15. Following the creation of DEFRA there was concern that the new Department would be the sponsor and promoter of farming in the way that the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had been perceived to be in the past. The Department's initial 'high-level objectives' placed farming fifth on a list of seven objectives,[28] an apparent order of priority viewed with alarm by some.[29] The symbolism of the fact that the name of the new Department did not include the word 'agriculture' or 'farming' was also commented upon.[30]

16. That initial criticism has to an extent abated, but has not entirely disappeared. There is concern that DEFRA does not give priority to agriculture: in its evidence to us the National Farmers' Union told us that it is "deeply concerned that DEFRA is failing to give proper weight to the future of farming".[31] The CPRE said that "the Department should be taking a more confident and pro-active approach to fostering a more sustainable and viable farming industry that delivers a wide range of public goods".[32] The CLA commented that there is "no sign in the [Department's] vision of recognition by DEFRA of the importance that profitable farming plays in a thriving countryside".[33] The Dairy Industry Association Limited told us that DEFRA's "aims and objectives do not give sufficient recognition of the economic imperatives agriculture and its associated processing industries are subject to. This is somewhat in contrast to the focus given to environmental issues".[34] And a recent editorial in the Farmers' Weekly commented on "another week, another DEFRA diatribe against British farming ... Speaking at the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool, Mrs Beckett seemed to focus most of her energy on the world stage. The Rio Earth Summit, the recent Johannesburg World Summit and the Doha trade talks, figured prominently in her speech".[35]

17. The Government appears to reject the notion that it should prioritise the needs of farmers. Lord Whitty told us that "it is important to say that we are not the ministry for farmers; we are the ministry for rural affairs and the environment ... the criticism that we are not sufficiently farmer-focused seems to me a wrong one and one that leads to a misunderstanding of the changes to the Government machinery that we intended to achieve".[36] He observed that, excluding the Ministry of Defence, "MAFF was the only remaining department that was responsible for a single line of industry. It had a certain Soviet-life overtone to it".[37] He urged agriculture to "see itself in a wider context and its relationship with Government in a wider context".[38] However, he did agree that Government wanted to see a thriving agricultural sector.

18. The framework in which agriculture operates, which determines whether it is able to function profitably, is largely dependent on decisions taken by Government and the European Union.[39] Whether it likes it or not DEFRA is more than just an interlocutor for agriculture and a wide range of other, related, industries: it is a funder, regulator, negotiator and mediator. It is important, therefore, that DEFRA makes clear the central role played by agriculture in delivering a host of its objectives, and in particular those relating to rural communities, the countryside and sustainable development.


19. Taken together the Department's two new roles differ significantly from those of the former MAFF and of the former Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. Changing the Department so that its new agenda is reflected in its structures and practices and embedded in its culture is a considerable managerial challenge. Management of the Department must (a) bring staff together to form a coherent whole which is more than the sum of its parts, (b) ensure that the Department as a whole understands and adopts the aims of sustainable development and the needs of rural areas, and (c) that it understands its responsibility to promote its agenda across Whitehall.

20. The Department is certainly making strenuous efforts to change. Lord Whitty told us that there is a "high degree of motivation" to do so.[40] The process has begun with intensive training for senior managers intended to help them "change their focus", since without change in senior ranks "the rest of the staff will not change their direction".[41] Lord Whitty pointed to "major changes in structure and in personnel at senior management level ... [although] the changes are not so dramatic at the junior levels".[42] That said, training, Information Technology and other support is being amended to reflect the new priorities of the Department.[43] Attention has been devoted to ensuring better co-ordination between different parts of DEFRA, and Lord Whitty told us that "there are probably some other structural changes that will have to be made".[44]

Delivering sustainable development

21. To support its sustainable development objectives the Department has published a strategy paper, Foundations for our Future, in which it proposes a "programme of activities for staff, [through which] we aim to create a better understanding of sustainable development within DEFRA, to embed the principles and commitments in this strategy in every part of the organisation".[45] It suggests providing better information, training and team discussions, coupled with monitoring and appraisal, as well as making better use of 'cross-cutting' teams made up of staff from different parts of the Department.[46] Moreover, Foundations for our Future was itself drawn up "with input from staff", amongst others.[47]

22. DEFRA has also sought to champion sustainable development across Whitehall. Foundations for our Future points out that the Department chairs the Cabinet Sub-Committee of Green Ministers - ENV(G) - which considers the impacts of all Government policies on sustainable development".[48] It also claims that the Department "has maintained and developed its close working links with the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, reinforced by a concordat".[49] DEFRA also apparently works closely with the Department of Trade and Industry on "resource productivity and corporate social responsibility", as well as with the Treasury on ensuring that sustainable development "is taken into account in departmental bids for the 2002 Spending Review".[50] The Department also works with other Departments to promote sustainable development objectives.

23. The effectiveness of these partnerships with other Government Departments has been questioned. The charge, in short, is that DEFRA is jack of too many trades and master of none. The National Trust told us that "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".[51] The CPRE detected a "growing sense of frustration at perhaps the inability of the Department to make an impact where it matters on the centre of Government, in terms of gaining resources, in terms of gaining commitment across Government to sustainable development objectives".[52]

24. Lord Whitty suggested that the success or otherwise of the Department in advancing the cause of sustainable development would only become apparent as time passed: he said that "the degree to which we will have achieved that in a year's time will become apparent, in so far as it is not already".[53] We are pessimistic about DEFRA's ability to ensure that Government Departments will do more than pay lip service to the objectives of sustainable development. It is essential that the Department vigorously seeks to promote across Whitehall the importance of putting sustainable development at the heart of policy-making. We are not content to wait for a year to see what progress the Department has made. We recommend that the Department now publish details of all agreements, protocols and concordats it has reached with other Departments in relation to sustainable development. It should also describe each year in its annual report the influence it has had on the policies and activities of those Departments, and the progress they are making towards achieving their sustainability objectives. This is doing no more than asking the Department to substantiate the main claim for its existence.

25. In May 1999 the Government published a national sustainable development strategy.[54] Subsequently it has set out a range of indicators against which its progress towards achieving the targets set out in the strategy can be assessed. In particular it has identified fifteen 'headline indicators', and the Government is committed to publishing annually a Quality of Life Barometer setting out performance against the headline indicators, as well as policy responses, as appropriate.[55] The Environmental Audit Committee has raised concern that the process essentially constitutes the Government reporting on itself, a concern we share.[56]

26. We discuss below the role of 'rural proofing' in seeking to ensure that the interests of rural areas are taken into account across Whitehall. Each year the Countryside Agency audits the effectiveness of such proofing. There seems to be little reason why a similar audit should not be carried out in relation to sustainable development. We note that DEFRA already works with the Sustainable Development Commission, an advisory body which comments to Government on progress made in this area,[57] and that the Commission already has responsibility for auditing performance.[58] Like the Environmental Audit Committee, we recommend that the Government invite the Sustainable Development Commission to publish in the annual report on performance against the headline indicators of sustainable development its own assessment of progress made across Government.

27. Within DEFRA it is proposed that an internal auditing system be used to "examine the procedures and information used to make future policies, and check they comply with this [sustainable development] strategy".[59] We recommend that the Department report to us annually the results of its audit of its own ability to put sustainable development at the heart of its policy-making.

Addressing the needs of rural areas

28. The Department has also taken steps to promote greater sensitivity within the Department to the needs of rural areas. Lord Whitty said that it was important that "those who carry out some of the functions need to be less silo-ised and blinkered themselves. If you are looking after forestry or an aspect of waste management, you are looking at the rural environment as a whole and not simply carrying out your duties under the specific regulations for which your post has historically been designated. That is part of the culture change that we are trying to achieve. It may be that the numbers under the heading of rural affairs do not rise significantly, but the people who traditionally are in agricultural posts or environmental posts begin to take on rural affairs roles. That is beginning to happen already and it needs to happen more".[60]

29. A number of our witnesses were concerned about the slow pace at which DEFRA had turned to its rural affairs agenda: the Local Government Association told us that "rural affairs seems to have a Cinderella role".[61] A matter of particular concern is the fate of the Rural White Paper, published in November 2000.[62] The National Trust illustrated its comment about how slowly the Department had moved on "wider rural issues" by referring to the White Paper.[63] Likewise the CPRE urged us "to recommend that DEFRA gets back on track with the implementation of the Rural White Paper"[64] It said that "the Rural White Paper provides many welcome initiatives and ideas that could help address the problems of service decline, lack of affordable housing and poor access to training and childcare facing many rural communities. The challenge to DEFRA is to translate these into tangible improvements on the ground".[65] Lord Whitty claimed that, in fact, good progress had been made in implementing the White Paper, pointing particularly to initiatives in market towns and in villages.[66] However, he conceded that although DEFRA had "encouraged other departments to deliver their part of the Rural White Paper ... there is the question of how effectively that has been delivered on the ground".[67] He was particularly concerned about rural transport. We recommend that the Government recommit itself to the Rural White Paper, and where other Departments have received budget allocations to deliver specific rural initiatives and do not appear to be doing so DEFRA should advise the Cabinet Committee responsible for rural affairs about this failure to use correctly their budget allocations. It is vital that it ensures that the policies and initiatives the White Paper sets out are put into practice in rural communities.

30. A key facet of the Rural White Paper is that it commits Government Departments to 'think rural' when developing policies and programmes.[68] This has led to 'rural proofing', a process by which "the potential impacts of policy and decision-making on rural areas is evaluated, taking the needs of those who live and work in the countryside fully into account. The purpose is to make sure that the needs of rural areas are not sidelined, and indeed that they are reflected at the heart of all policy making".[69] The Countryside Agency has given advice to Government Departments including providing a rural proofing 'checklist' against which policies and decisions can be assessed. Government Departments have also all identified a lead person on rural proofing. The success of rural proofing is assessed annually in a report by the Agency.[70]

31. In passing, we note that in its Annual Report DEFRA describes how it co-ordinates and monitors rural proofing across Government "with help from the Countryside Agency".[71] We understand that DEFRA wishes to take a lead in promoting the interests of rural areas across Whitehall, and rural proofing is a key part of that process. But in practical terms rural proofing is currently the responsibility of the Countryside Agency. We have commented in the past on the likelihood that the creation of DEFRA, as a Department specifically responsible for 'rural affairs', would require the Countryside Agency and the Department to re-examine their respective roles and responsibilities to ensure that they do not overlap or conflict with one another.[72] Rural proofing is an example of the potential difficulty. We recommend that DEFRA and the Countryside Agency clarify their respective roles in the process of rural proofing and, above all, make clear which of them takes overall responsibility for the rural areas. Confusion about the respective roles of DEFRA and the Agency is affecting the delivery of services in rural communities.

32. The Countryside Agency's most recent report into the effectiveness of rural proofing, published in April 2002, was not positive. It found that "progress has been slower than we would have wished. On the basis of action so far, rural proofing is unlikely to become widely used and routine", that "there remains some way to go before rural proofing can be said to be systematically applied", and that "there is limited evidence on the ground at this stage [of changes to policy as a result of rural proofing]".[73] On the basis of the report the RSPB commented that the Countryside Agency and DEFRA "had really not been able to encourage other aspects of Government to rural proof their own operations and ... after the first year of rural proofing, there was little sign that this had been a very effective element of advocacy for DEFRA".[74] DEFRA itself admitted that "there is still some way to go".[75]

33. Of specific concern is the timing of the process. There is a distinct possibility that Departments may develop policies to an advanced stage and only then go back and assess their impact on rural communities, making minor adjustments if need be. The Countryside Agency said that "the intention is that rural proofing should begin early in the policy-making process, so that it can have an influence before key decisions are taken. But most of the rural proofing activities of which we are aware occurred late in policy-making, typically adaptions to existing policies".[76] Lord Whitty conceded that what happens is that "at the end of the policy development period, which probably started before rural proofing was on the agenda, they then rather hurriedly double-check whether they can give a positive rural proofing dimension to the policy".[77] The Countryside Agency said that "Departments should ensure that they use rural proofing as a screening process early in their policy-making",[78] and noted that the Agency and its contact points within Departments "should aim to identify forthcoming areas of policy development, where rural issues are likely to be relevant and ensure that rural proofing is brought to the attention of the relevant policy teams. Many of the success stories [in rural proofing] ... evolved from such a proactive approach".[79]

34. We support rural proofing to the extent that it is the only currently available mechanism through which specifically rural issues can be reflected in decision-making across Whitehall. We urge DEFRA and the Countryside Agency to continue encourage the use of the rural proofing mechanism at the earliest possible stage in the decision-making process in other Government Departments and agencies. We recommend that the Government reply in detail to the annual reports of the Countryside Agency on rural proofing, setting out how shortcomings will be put right. We recommend also that Government promote awareness of rural proofing at senior levels in all Departments, and that the Countryside Agency undertake a detailed audit of such awareness as soon as possible. Without greater impetus behind rural proofing we are concerned that as with sustainable development Departments will pay little more than lip service to the process.

35. It is disappointing therefore that DEFRA's record in proofing its own policies is not impressive. The CPRE pointed to the fact that the Countryside Agency report "highlighted that DEFRA could be doing more internally and externally to rural proof policy and practice".[80] In fact the Countryside Agency reported that "there has only been limited implementation of rural proofing [in DEFRA] ... Much of their work contains a rural dimension, but there are few policy adjustments or outcomes to report at this stage".[81] DEFRA should set an example to other Departments in its adoption of rural proofing. We therefore recommend that DEFRA, as a matter of urgency, ensure that it improves awareness and use of rural proofing in its own work. We require that the Department, by the time of the next annual report into the matter by the Countryside Agency, have the best record in rural proofing its policies and decisions of all Government Departments.

Changing culture and managing change

36. At the time that DEFRA was created, the Prime Minister challenged it to become a "department that would operate as 'a single, distinct and integrated whole, with a markedly new culture'".[82] Lord Whitty told us that although more was needed, the Department had made progress towards meeting that challenge. He told us that in addressing the "internal culture, there are structural and superstructural lags no doubt but we have given for the ministerial and management board level a pretty clear sense of direction. We want that broader department. We want those who are very heavily involved and focused on agriculture to take a broader view. We also want those in other parts of the Department to recognise the importance of farming in delivering our broader objectives".[83]

37. Most of our witnesses were equivocal about DEFRA's performance since taking on its new roles. For example, the National Trust told us that DEFRA had "moved quickly and effectively to establish internal structures, clear aims and objectives and strategic priorities [and] made important progress towards integrating with other Government departments at a regional level", but that there was still much to do. In particular, the Trust said, the Department needed to do more to integrate its own operations, "especially on the environment and the links between farming and rural policy", and it had "singularly failed to make any appreciable impact on key policy developments in land use planning and transport despite their environmental and rural significance".[84] The Wildlife Trusts commented that "there is evidence of a lack of integration with other Departments on related issues (such as transport and planning)".[85]

38. In its evidence the CPRE observed that "the attitude and approach of existing staff is a potential barrier to delivering the opportunities of a new approach to rural and environmental issues offered by DEFRA. It is essential that officials at all levels are conversant with its new aims and objectives and are encouraged to adopt a new and more holistic approach to solving rural problems. This will be a particular challenge given the cultural 'inertia' that appeared endemic in the former MAFF and the dominance of staff, in terms of numbers and resources, focussed on the agricultural sector".[86] The RSPB commented that "despite the progressive rhetoric of the ministerial team and Management Board ... there is worrying evidence that the inertia and narrow world view towards agriculture shown by the former MAFF are still pervasive at lower levels within the Department".[87] In oral evidence the RSPB said that there "is still evidence of significant ... silo-thinking within the Department in that there is significant division between the old sectors of say flood defence and environment protection and that we still have different thinking lines within the Department. We have yet to see that integration which we would have hoped might have been achieved".[88] For its part, the Countryside Alliance said that it thought that "much needs to be done" to bring together DEFRA's diverse areas of responsibility: at the moment, it told us, "they are still being implemented separately, and this is resulting in a slow pace of change".[89]

39. It is apparent that the senior staff of DEFRA face a considerable challenge in managing changes of culture and structure. English Nature told us that DEFRA needed to "develop its culture to become ... less risk averse, more outward looking and innovative in its policy making and ways of working".[90] It observed that although the Department's "vision is good ... organisationally it remains too process driven ... [and] it must become more outcome focussed. Its programmes, activities and staff/financial resources need to be realigned to deliver the vision, aim and objectives".[91] It also commented that although DEFRA had made welcome attempts to be more open and inclusive it needed to consult more widely than its "established partners" in certain policy areas.[92] But it is worth noting the comments of the Wildlife Trusts, which told us that "there are clearly dangers of merged Departments becoming too unwieldy, resulting in poor communication, little integration and a static culture".[93]

40. Perhaps the most telling criticism of the Department has come from those responsible for inquiring into aspects of the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in 2001. For example, concerns about the slow pace of the Department were reflected by Professor Sir Brian Follett, Chairman of the Royal Society Inquiry into Infectious Diseases in Livestock in his comment on the Action Plan drawn up by DEFRA to deal with the illegal importation of meat. When asked what was missing from the Plan, he replied "action".[94] Even sharper criticism came from Dr Iain Anderson, the Chairman of the 'Lessons Learned' inquiry, in the foreword to his report. In it he said

    "Within MAFF, and now DEFRA, I detected a culture predisposed to decision taking by committee with an associated fear of personal risk taking. Such a climate does not encourage creative initiative. It inhibits adaptive behaviour, and organisational learning which, over time, lowers the quality of decisions taken. It seems to me that a reappraisal of prevailing attitudes and behaviours within the Department would be beneficial".[95]

Dr Anderson suggested that the Department should assess the extent to which it needed to "foster abilities in operational management and project management", in addition to existing policy-making skills.[96] He also said that leadership skills should be "husbanded and treasured and developed. In routine, they are always important; in crises they are absolutely essential".[97] Finally he recommended that DEFRA should engage with and learn from its stakeholders or, as he put it, "be guided by very penetrating contact with its customer group".[98]

41. In its own report on the first year of implementation of its plan for change, the Developing DEFRA Programme,[99] the Department records the practical difficulties it faced after its formation. These included the fact that the business systems such as information technology used by MAFF were "for purely pragmatic reasons" adopted across the whole Department, "which meant that it felt more like a takeover than a merger".[100] Harmonising day-to-day matters such as IT networks, switchboards, travel allowances, security passes, and corporate directories "were major irritants but were not easy or inexpensive to fix".[101] The report talks of the "practical difficulties, the culture clashes, the irritations and the frustrations of change", and concedes that in its first year the change programme has mainly comprised setting a new agenda and addressing the practical difficulties of merger: only in "the next period" is it expected that real cultural change will begin.[102] It is apparent from DEFRA's own statements and from the evidence we received that significant change to the culture of the Department is far from complete - indeed it has barely begun.

42. In our Report on the Departmental Annual Report 2002 we recorded that DEFRA and its staff had faced a period of considerable upheaval, as a result first of foot and mouth disease and second of the setting up of the new Department and subsequent efforts to change culture and focus. We commented that "there is little evidence of current management capability to lead change in such difficult circumstances".[103] We recommended that the Department's change plan and the competence available to deliver it be subject to external review. In its reply the Government said that its Change Programme had been reviewed together with the Office of Public Services, which had "helped the Department to identify the priority action areas for the next stage [of the Programme] ... These priorities include an assessment of the skills and competence of DEFRA's senior managers and action to fill any gaps".[104] We note that DEFRA has reviewed its plan for change, the Developing DEFRA Programme, and that the review has identified priorities for the next stage of the programme, including an assessment of the skills and competence of senior managers. We welcome that work, which tallies with the recommendation we made in our earlier Report. We recommend that the Department report back to us regularly on its progress in implementing the Programme and, particularly the action it takes to rectify any deficiencies in the skills of senior managers. We also recommend that the Department address seriously the comments made by Dr Anderson about fostering abilities in operational and project management, husbanding leadership skills, and develop ever closer links with its stakeholders, and report back to us the steps it intends to take to make progress in these areas.

Dealing with DEFRA

43. DEFRA has relationships with a very large number of outside bodies. It deals with a range of business interests, from farmers and fishermen to food processors and retailers, and from waste disposal companies to water suppliers, amongst a host of others. In addition, as well as forming relationships with non-governmental organisations and individuals, it has connections with various public bodies, not least local authorities.

44. One of the aspirations of the Developing DEFRA Programme is to make the Department "outward-looking, professional and expert ... [and] understand the needs of our customers and welcome feedback on performance".[105] We have heard evidence that the Department is beginning to achieve this aim: for example, a major supermarket told us that DEFRA officials have a good understanding of business issues and are becoming more consumer focused.[106] The Dairy Industry Association Limited (DIAL) said that it "remains satisfied with the professionalism and dedication of the civil servants in DEFRA. DEFRA personnel respond promptly to queries raised by DIAL".[107] Water UK told us that "the willingness of DEFRA Ministers and officials to discuss policy issues and attend meetings with other stakeholders has been impressive".[108] We welcome the efforts made by DEFRA to engage with interested parties. We urge it to continue to develop these important links with others, and use such contacts to develop a closer understanding of their needs, and to learn from them in order to become more customer-focused.

45. However, several witnesses commented that the undoubted willingness of DEFRA to interact with interested parties was compromised by a lack of resources in the Department, and particularly a shortage of staff and high rates of staff turnover. The Environmental Services Association said that "both the Waste Policy and Waste Strategy units remain under-resourced to deliver the diverse and complex work programme surrounding the management of waste and secondary resources".[109] The Council for National Parks observed that "insufficient resources are being provided to DEFRA's Countryside Division. The Council for National Parks notes that the Division is very stretched in terms of meeting its responsibilities to National Park sponsorship".[110] The British Retail Consortium told us that it hoped that the Food Industry Division of DEFRA would ensure that the interests of food retailers are heard across Government, but says that "at current staffing levels this will be an ambitious task".[111] The Local Government Association reported difficulties faced by local authorities seeking to include targets on recycling waste within their local public service agreements which it attributed to "a lack of resources being applied to this priority".[112] Water UK told us that "there are a few welcome signs of DEFRA being prepared to look for a more integrated approach [to its work] ... However, progress has been slow. We wonder if this is due to a lack of resource and/or experience within parts of DEFRA".[113] Concerns about staffing levels are also raised by the National Farmers' Union[114] and the Ramblers' Association.[115]

46. Another company which deals regularly with DEFRA has separately told us about problems it has faced in its dealings with the Department.[116] It said that a Unit with which it deals has suffered from a high turnover of staff, and observed that its staff, including its head, were relatively junior. It also complained of inaccuracies in data issued by the Department, as well as confusion about which agency is responsible for aspects of policy. Finally, it commented on poor management of basic communication issues, such as answering the telephone and responding to written correspondence.

47. We have previously noted problems with staff shortages and turnover,[117] and have expressed particular concern about the average overall turnover between June 2001 and May 2002 of 9.2 per cent of staff. Subsequently DEFRA has told us that turnover of staff between January and May 2002 was only 2.8 per cent, and that generally turnover at middle or senior levels was only approximately 2 to 3 per cent, although it was more like 20 per cent for the most junior grades.[118] The paucity of data in the Department's Annual Report means that the extent of staff shortages is unclear, but the evidence we received is unequivocal. We recommend that DEFRA publish now a breakdown of the number of staff employed in each of its Directorates and units, as well as details of the number of unfilled posts in each. It is important, not least for its ability to deal properly with other organisations and individuals, that the Department is fully staffed. We recommend that the Department set out its policies for recruiting and retaining staff, to ensure that staff shortages and turnover are reduced.

48. Our witnesses also thought that more extensive contact between DEFRA officials and other organisations would be mutually beneficial. The Country Land and Business Association reflected on the situation in France where, it said, government was more responsive to the needs of small business because of its "closer contact with the industries on the ground and through some of their professional organisations and through their departmental system".[119] The British Retail Consortium suggested that understanding by officials of the food industry would be enhanced by "the introduction of a more formal programme of secondments between Government and food retailing to ensure that officials are given the opportunity to witness first-hand the practical impact of policy-making".[120] The Consortium has offered to co-ordinate such a programme. DEFRA must work hard to build up close contacts with businesses and others. One way of doing so might be to organise regular secondments for staff into businesses - and indeed into other organisations - and of staff from outside into DEFRA. We recommend that the Department actively explore the possibility of setting up a programme of such secondments. We believe that a properly structured programme of secondments will help promote mutual understanding between DEFRA and those with whom it inter-relates, and will also encourage cultural change in the Department.


49. It is apparent that DEFRA continues to face a difficult period of change. It must bring its staff together, in both structural and cultural terms. It must make clear to them that their twin objectives are sustainable development and the protection of rural interests, and put in place work practices which support those goals. And it must ensure that the Department has the means and the confidence to project those objectives across Whitehall and in other agencies. Achieving such changes to its mission and its practices will not be easy, and we remain concerned about the ability of senior managers to ensure that they take place - concern borne out by the comments of our witnesses and others on the performance of the Department in its first year. We look forward to the rapid changes which will be needed for the Department to fulfil its new role.

1   Rural Britain: Leadership for the future, Labour Party Election Manifesto 2001.  Back

2   See Press Notice No.26, which along with all other Committee publications can be viewed via our website, which can be found at Back

3   Announced in Press Notices Nos.36 and 39, which can be viewed via our website. Back

4   This can be seen at Back

5   A new Department, a new Agenda, DEFRA Consultation Document, August 2001; the document can be viewed on the internet at Back

6   An illustration of the range of responsibilities can be seen in DEFRA's organisational chart, which can be seen on the internet at Back

7   For an idea of the subjects covered by European legislation, see; see in particular the homepages of the Agriculture, Environment, Fisheries and Health and Consumer Protection (ie. food safety) Directorates-General, which can be accessed via Back

8   See DEFRA Departmental Report 2002, p.16; see Back

9   Evidence taken on 14 November 2001 on the Establishment of DEFRA and other matters, Q.24; the evidence can be viewed at Back

10   See Back

11   Foundations for our Future, paras.1.1 and 1.2. Back

12   A better quality of life - A strategy for sustainable development in the United Kingdom, DETR, 1999; the document can be viewed at http://www.sustainable­ Back

13   Foundations for our Future, p.1. Back

14   G16, Ev 115, p.1. Back

15   More details about the Government targets for sustainable development are found in the Report of the Environmental Audit Committee, Measuring the Quality of Life: The 2001 Sustainable Development Headline Indicators, HC (2001-02) 824; see http://www.parliament.the­stationery­ Back

16   Foundations for our Future, para.1.2; see also paras.1.3 ff. Back

17   Dear Prime Minister, The Green Alliance, pp.3 and 6; the pamphlet is available on the internet from the Alliance's website; see­ Back

18   Dear Prime Minister, The Green Alliance, p.7. Back

19   G21, Ev 2, para.3.2. Back

20   G20, Ev 28, para.7. Back

21   G20, Ev 29, para.13. Back

22   Q.31. Back

23   G2, Ev 85, para.5.1. Back

24   Q.212. Back

25   Q.206. Back

26   Q.230. Back

27   G5, Ev 39, para.6. Back

28   A New Department, A New Agenda, DEFRA, p.6. Back

29   See Farming only fifth on DEFRA agenda, Farmers' Weekly Interactive, 24 August 2001. Back

30   See, for example, HC Deb, 26 June 2001, col.565. Back

31   G15, Ev 112, para.9. Back

32   G20, Ev 30, para.18. Back

33   G8, Ev 11, para.6; DEFRA's 'Vision' can be seen at Back

34   G4, Ev 125, para.6. Back

35   Farmers' Weekly, 4 October 2002, p.5. Back

36   Q.202. Back

37   Q.205. Back

38   Q.205. Back

39   See our Ninth Report, The Future of UK Agriculture in a Changing World, HC (2001-02) 550. Back

40   See Q.225. Back

41   Q.225. Back

42   Q.228. Back

43   See Q.225. Back

44   Q.229. Back

45   See Foundations for our Future, DEFRA, June 2002, para.2.19; the document can be viewed on the internet using the address Back

46   Foundations for our Future, para.2.19 ff. Back

47   DEFRA Departmental Report 2002, p.21; see Back

48   See Foundations for our Future, para.1.2. Back

49   Foundations for our Future, para.1.4. Back

50   Foundations for our Future, para.1.4. Back

51   G5, Ev 40, para.15 and Ev 39, para.3. Back

52   Q.115. Back

53   Q.206. Back

54   A better quality of life: a strategy for sustainable development for the UK, Cm 4345, May 1999; this can be viewed at http://www.sustainable­ Back

55   A description of the process can be found in the Report of the Environmental Audit Committee, Measuring the Quality of Life: The 2001 Sustainable Development Headline Indicators, para.1 ff. Back

56   Measuring the Quality of Life: The 2001 Sustainable Development Headline Indicators, paras.20 to 25. Back

57   More details can be found at­ Back

58   Review 2001: Headlining Sustainable Development, Sustainable Development Commission, November 2001, p.3; see­ Back

59   Foundations for our Future, para.2.22. Back

60   Q.230. Back

61   G16, Ev 115. Back

62   For a summary, see­countryside/ruralwp/cm4909/summary/index.htm. Back

63   See G5, Ev 39, para.6. Back

64   G20, Ev 28, para.10. Back

65   G20, Ev 28, para.9. Back

66   The Countryside Agency is responsible for programmes relating to 'Vital Villages' and 'Market Towns'. More details can be seen at and­towns/, respectively.  Back

67   See Q.231. Back

68   See Our Countryside, The Future (the Rural White Paper), Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, November 2000, Chapter 13, which is available on the internet at­countryside/ruralwp/cm4909/17.htm; see also Rural Proofing in 2001/02, Countryside Agency, April 2002, at­Main.pdf. Back

69   Rural Proofing in 2001/02, Countryside Agency, April 2002, p.8. Back

70   See Rural Proofing in 2001/02, Countryside Agency, April 2002, p.10. Back

71   DEFRA Departmental Report 2002, p.21. Back

72   Countryside Agency, Second Report of the Committee, HC (2001-02) 386, para.11. Back

73   Rural Proofing in 2001/02, Countryside Agency, April 2002, pp.10, 12 and 16. Back

74   Q.14. Back

75   Q.232. Back

76   Rural Proofing in 2001/02, Countryside Agency, April 2002, p.14. Back

77   Q.233. Back

78   Rural Proofing in 2001/02, Countryside Agency, April 2002, p.14. Back

79   Rural Proofing in 2001/02, Countryside Agency, April 2002, p.11. Back

80   G20, Ev 28, para.10. Back

81   Rural Proofing in 2001/02, Countryside Agency, April 2002, p.36. Back

82   Reported in Developing DEFRA: A report on the merger for people who lead and manage change, DEFRA, August 2002. Back

83   Q.249. Back

84   G5, Ev 39, para.3. Back

85   G29, Ev 124, para.5. Back

86   G20, Ev 28, para.8. Back

87   G21, Ev 2, para.3.3. Back

88   Q.9. Back

89   G10, Ev 99. Back

90   G2, Ev 83, para.1.2. Back

91   G2, Ev 83, para.1.1. Back

92   See G2, Ev 83, para.1.3. Back

93   G29, Ev 124, para.5. Back

94   Evidence given before the Committee on Wednesday 16 October 2002, HC (2001-02) 1220, Q.55. Back

95   Foreword to the Foot and Mouth Disease: Lessons to be Learned Inquiry Report, HC (2001-02) 888; the report can be viewed at Back

96   Q.33. Back

97   Q.38. Back

98   Q.38. Back

99   Developing DEFRA: A report on the merger for people who lead and manage change, DEFRA, August 2002. Back

100   Developing DEFRA, p.6. Back

101   Developing DEFRA, p.6. Back

102   Developing DEFRA, p.6 and p.3. Back

103   Departmental Annual Report 2002, Sixth Report, HC (2001-02) 969, para.23. Back

104   Government reply to the Sixth Report of the Committee, Ninth Special Report, HC (2001-02) 1223, p.8. Back

105   DEFRA Departmental Report 2002, p.17. Back

106   Letter to the Clerk of the Committee (not published). Back

107   G4, Ev 126, para.12. Back

108   G11, Ev 101. Back

109   G9, Ev 96, para.19. Back

110   G6, Ev 93, para.1. Back

111   G1, Ev 82. Back

112   G16, Ev 115, p.2. Back

113   G11,Ev 103-Ev 104, para.4.3. Back

114   G15, Ev 112, para.8. Back

115   G19, Ev 118, para.2. Back

116   Letter to the Chairman, not published. Back

117   Sixth Report, The Departmental Annual Report 2002, HC (2001-02) 969, paras.22 ff. Back

118   Government reply to the Sixth Report of the Committee, Ninth Special Report, HC (2001-02) 1223, p.7. Back

119   Q.67. Back

120   G1, Ev 82. Back

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