Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Fourth Report


35. A large part of the Departmental Report is devoted to reports of progress made in relation to the Department's Public Service Agreement (PSA) targets. Consequently we devoted a significant proportion of our questioning to Defra officials to such matters. Defra had ten PSA targets agreed as part of the 2002 Spending Review. The Departmental Report measures progress against these targets. We asked the Department about three targets of particular concern: climate change, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and rural areas.

Climate change

2002 Public Service Agreement target 2: Improve the environment and the sustainable use of natural resources, including through the use of energy saving technologies, to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5 per cent from 1990 levels and moving towards a 20 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2010.
Joint target with the Department of Trade and Industry.

36. The Departmental Report states that Defra is "on course" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5 per cent but "more needs to be done" to meet the domestic target of a 20 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2010.[72]

37. This target was modified in the 2004 Spending Review, with the Department for Transport (DfT) included as a co-owner alongside Defra and the Department for Trade and Industry.[73] We asked about DfT's contribution since becoming a co-owner of the target. Defra's Director-General, Environment told us it was difficult to provide a precise figure on the contribution made by DfT so far, but stressed the importance of the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation, which aimed to deliver "around a million tonnes of carbon saving by 2010".[74] He added that Defra was currently analysing another "70-odd different policy measures" for a broad range of sectors—including transport—as part of the Climate Change Programme review.[75] He acknowledged transport was proving to be the "most problematic area" but, until the analysis was complete, the Department was "not yet at a position" to predict what contribution the sector would make.[76]

38. We wanted to know whether there had been effective communication and policy co-ordination between Defra and DfT, since DfT became a co-owner of the PSA target. Defra's Director-General, Environment told us "real engagement" had occurred between the two departments, and that Defra had "regular discussions together with [DfT] to look at ways in which they can contribute more".[77]

39. We welcome the fact that the Department for Transport (DfT) is now a co-owner of the Public Service Agreement target relating to climate change, as we have previously recommended. Defra needs to make considerable progress in order to meet its domestic target of a 20 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020. Given that the transport sector is such a significant contributor to the UK's carbon dioxide emissions, it is essential that DfT shares responsibility for achieving this target. We strongly urge Defra to continue to work closely, and constructively, with the DfT (and the Department for Trade and Industry) to find practical and effective polices to meet this joint target. We look forward to Defra updating us as to how this relationship is developing on a six monthly basis. We expect to return to this issue as part of our forthcoming inquiry into aspects of climate change policy.

Sites of special scientific interest and farmland birds

2002 Public Service Agreement target 3: Care for our natural heritage, make the countryside attractive and enjoyable for all, and preserve biological diversity by… bringing into favourable condition for 2010 95 per cent of all nationally important wildlife sites.

40. PSA target 3 aims to preserve biological diversity by "bringing into favourable condition" 95% of all sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) by 2010. The Departmental Report states that 67.4% of SSSIs were in target condition in March 2005, an increase of 4.5% from March 2004.[78] This meets Defra's 2005 target of 67%, as set out in its 'provisional trajectory' (Table 3).[79]

Table 3: Defra's 'provisional trajectory' for meeting PSA target 3

Percentage of SSIs in target condition
67 (achieved)

41. The Permanent Secretary told us Defra had made "very good progress" with this PSA target and she was "pretty confident" the 2010 target would be met.[80] Nevertheless, she was aware that "all sorts of external factors could hit us off course at the last moment".[81] We congratulate Defra on its progress in the past year in restoring sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs), and for meeting its 67 per cent 'trajectory' target for 2005. However, the remaining third of SSSIs will undoubtedly be more difficult. We recommend the Department publish clear proposals about how it proposes to meet each of its trajectory targets for the next five years.

Rural affairs

2002 Public Service Agreement target 4: Reduce the gap in productivity between the least well performing quartile of rural areas and the English median by 2006, and improve the accessibility of services for rural people.

42. PSA target 4 (2002) identifies five key services, and targets "improvements in their accessibility", namely: health, post 16-year-old education and skills, transport, access to cash and electronic access to services.[82] As was the case last year, progress against this PSA target has "not yet been assessed" and the Departmental Report again accepts that it is "challenging".[83]

43. We asked Defra officials in oral evidence why progress against the target had still not been assessed. Defra's Chief Operating Officer explained there was "an issue over the availability of data", as it was produced with "a very considerable time-lag, of up to two years".[84] He added that Defra was "doing work" to identify other measures and indicators that could provide data, because "clearly it is not satisfactory if you can only measure progress after a period in which you are supposed to have met that target".[85] He told us:

    For my part and I think others, [the time-lag in obtaining data] would call into question whether or not the actual measurement … and … definition of that target is very useful from a real time point of view, because there is such a lag that you cannot actually see how far you are making progress.[86]

44. We questioned the credibility of setting a target in respect of which it was extremely difficult to establish not only the progress made but also a baseline from which to start measurement. The Permanent Secretary responded that it was "a fair cop", although she added that having a target "encourages us to get the information".[87] She told us the Department would be re-examining the PSA targets for the period beyond the current Spending Review and it was necessary to "do some pretty early thinking of, in some cases, what are perhaps more sensible measures of those targets".[88]

45. We are extremely disappointed that Defra has still not been able to assess progress against its PSA target relating to rural affairs. This is especially unsatisfactory given the target went 'live' on 1 April 2003. We recommend the Department start to think now—in advance of the 2007 Spending Review—of a more appropriate PSA target relating to rural affairs. It should ensure that the baseline of, and progress made in achieving, any new target can be measured appropriately.

72   Defra, Departmental Report 2005, p 46 Back

73   The Committee recommended this change in its report on The Departmental Annual Report, 2004, HC (2002-03) 707, Recommendation 14 Back

74   Q 58 Back

75   Q 58 Back

76   Qq 58-9 Back

77   Q 61 Back

78   Defra, Departmental Report 2005, p 101 Back

79   The trajectory sets out interim milestones to assist with the assessment and reporting of progress towards achievement of the SSSI target. It was included in this year's Departmental Report (p.101), in line with Committee Recommendation 15 in last year's report on The Departmental Report, 2004 HC (2002-03) 707. Back

80   Q 75 Back

81   Q 76 Back

82   Defra, Departmental Report 2004, p 83 Back

83   Defra, Departmental Report 2005, p 130, p 300 Back

84   Q 85 Back

85   Q 86 Back

86   Q 85 Back

87   Qq 89-90 Back

88   Q 90 Back

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