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


Memorandum submitted by the Environment Agency (G25)

  1.  The Environment Agency welcomes this opportunity to comment on the role of DEFRA. In doing so we have responded to the questions posed by the Committee.

  2.  Whether the DEFRA Vision for the Department is appropriate.

  2.1  This Vision was developed in an open consultative way, which indicated a change of style from that of MAFF. The Vision rightly has sustainable development as its overarching theme. We particularly welcome the emphasis on achieving sustainable food, fishing and farming industries that are not dependent upon production related subsidies.

  2.2  The Vision was sound, however as yet, it is too early to judge DEFRA's success in delivering its Vision. We believe the Vision should be backed up with clear statements of outcome targets. The recently published DEFRA prospectus "Working for the Essentials of Life" made considerable commitments in relation to the main themes of the vision. This is welcome elaboration, but there needs to be indication of a desired timetable for delivery.

  2.3  We would suggest DEFRA should publish an annual progress report similar to that produced by the former Department of the Environment for "This Common Inheritance".

  2.4  Such processes are useful, but will only be successful if Departmental culture is aligned with the Vision. Such a change from MAFF and DETR cultures will take time and resources to achieve. There are some indications of such change, for instance, the increasing integration of work on the economics of environmental protection, agriculture and flood defence and initial work on diffuse pollution. In contrast, some policy groups remain disjointed. For example the recently issued revised "Prioritisation Guidance for Flood Defence Capital Projects", has not accepted the need to address the three recognised elements of sustainable development. Economic factors still dominate with little emphasis on either social or environmental issues. Such culture change could be encouraged by the systematic use of a sustainable development checklist for all policy and guidance.

  2.5  A potential disadvantage of the creation of DEFRA was the separation of Environmental Protection and of the Countryside and Wildlife directorates from what was DTLR and now the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) and the Department of Transport. Many of the mechanisms for delivering sustainable development, as well as a number of key environmental impacts, are the responsibility of ODPM (eg local government, planning, regeneration) and the Department of Transport. The extent to which forthcoming policies in these areas embrace sustainable development will be an important test of the Government's wider environmental credentials and a clear barometer of DEFRA's influence across government.

  2.6  Finally, in a period of change DEFRA have had some notable successes, not least in international negotiations on climate change (Marrakesh and Bonn) and on trade (Doha). The Curry Commission on the Future of Agriculture has set out a workable blueprint for agriculture reform.

  2.7  To implement the Curry Report, and to deliver the agenda set out in the Rural White Paper, DEFRA will need to make full use of the expertise in its Agencies as well as securing adequate financial resources.

  3.  Whether farming, food, environment and conservation concerns, and rural affairs are each given proper weight by the Department, and whether the Department is engineered to deliver its objectives.

  3.1  The DEFRA aims and objectives cover all these areas and appear to give them proper weight. There are encouraging signs of integrated thinking, for example, "Sustainable Food and Farming—Working Together" and initiatives on diffuse pollution. As well as tackling the sustainability of agricultural production, DEFRA might do more to promote environmental good practice in other parts of the food chain, particularly amongst companies involved in food production.

  3.2  In contrast, recognition of the potential cross-cutting impact of the Birds and Habitats Directives remains low. Similarly, few directorates have taken on board the principles of the "UK Soil Strategy", and the implementation of the Waste Regulations to farms has only been tackled in an integrated way latterly.

  3.3  On conservation issues, the picture is mixed with greater impetus apparent on the Biodiversity Action Plan in England and the Biodiversity Strategy. However, there is still no overall compliance plan for the Habitats and Birds Directives and the separation from the former Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions has sidelined DEFRA on major planning decisions involving wildlife sites.

  3.4  DEFRA faces a difficult task in successfully carrying forward the "Greening Government" agenda. As a less powerful and less wealthy department (compared with DETR), it will need to work hard to continue to influence other departments. (A robust output from the cross-Government working group on procurement will be a key test here). It will also need to lead by example and ensure that its own sustainable development strategy is fully implemented.

  3.5  DEFRA will need to consider how to regroup to encourage the achievement of its Vision and of more integrated and sustainable policies. This will involve the introduction of a new culture. Any such change is time consuming and requires adequate resourcing.

  4.  What has been the impact on the role and influence of the Environment Protection Group and the Wildlife and Countryside Directorate of their transfer from the former DETR?

  4.1  So far, there has been little obvious change either in culture or way of working. The addition of Flood Defence and Coastal Protection to Wildlife and Countryside Directorate offers the potential for greater conservation gain from flood defence works, but as yet no change is apparent.

  4.2  One significant impact has been a high level of vacancies and increased staff turnover especially in Environmental Protection. A significant number of staff successfully transferred "back" to DTLR. This appears to be driven by the poorer salary structure in DEFRA (inherited from MAFF). For example this, combined with normal civil service change, means that most of the Water Supply and Regulation team has changed in the last 12 months.

  4.3  The lack of pre-planning for the department and the scale of staff changes has reduced continuity of policy development and disrupted progress. There also appears to be areas—such as the provision of legal support—where Environment Protection did not receive its pro-rata share from DETR. This has also constrained progress.

  5.  What objectives has the Department set itself in pursuing the "rural affairs" agenda?

  5.1  Rural affairs are directly reflected in DEFRA's Vision and objectives. There is a specific objective to enhance opportunity and tackle social exclusion through promoting sustainable rural areas. The prospectus expands on this, making a series of commitments to improve rural areas.

  5.2  As yet it is too early to see effective progress. Success in reforming the Common Agricultural Policy should provide funding for rural development. Key to this, is the expansion of modulation which will require Treasury agreement.

  5.3  It has been disappointing to see almost no consideration of the environment in the "rural proofing" checklist. There has also been a reluctance to communicate clearly with the farming industry over the need for environmental improvement and compliance with EU Directives. This is now being addressed by the development of a strategy for improved advice linked to demonstration farms.

May 2002

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