Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
TUESDAY 19 JUNE 2007
Q1 Chairman: Welcome to the Committee.
Thank you for coming in. This is the first of our public sessions
on this new subject we have just decided to address. I think you
believe that the proliferation of mechanisms to deal with climate
change in the various bits of government should be resisted if
possible and it would be better to focus on sustainable development
as a whole in terms of trying to improve the policymaking process.
What do you think the consequences of too much proliferation are
going to be in terms of our ability to tackle climate change and,
indeed, sustainable development?
Dr Russel: Could I start by thanking
you for inviting me and could I send apologies from my colleague
Dr Andrew Jordan who would have liked to have come but could not
make it. I find the proceedings of this Committee very useful
for my own research, so your work is to be commended.
Q2 Chairman: Thank you for that.
Dr Russel: A bit of flattery always
helps! In terms of answering your question, it is acknowledged
by international bodies such as the OECD that, commonly, when
you have a new policy problem, the initial instinct is to establish
new institutions of government to deal with that. The OECD suggest
that you get such a bureaucratic overload by adding additional
cross-cutting issues to be looked at, adding additional mechanisms,
that departments and policymakers do not necessarily have the
capacity or ability to cope. With having too many cross-cutting
issues to deal with at one time, you tend to get administrative
burden or administrative overload. We find that in our own research.
We have been looking at these issues or related issues since about
2001. Even in our early research, when we went into departments
for some ESRC-funded research, we were talking to policymakers
about how to deal with issues and they were saying, "We have
to consider race impact, health impact, environmental impact.
We do not have the time. We have ministerial demand. We have to
deal with these other things related to policymaking, and so we
pick those things that are core to government priorities, usually
of economic concern, and those things which are core to our department."
So if you are in the Department of Health you would look essentially
at health impacts and nothing else. Unless there is a common interest
for departments to head forward in the same direction on a cross-cutting
issueand I would argue in sustainable development and climate
change there is not yet a common interest in departmentsthen
there are just too many things for them to consider and they will
pick and choose which ones to do. Our research findings suggest
Q3 Chairman: We have had the Climate
Change Programme alongside the Sustainable Development Strategy.
Does that make it better or worse? Is there a way to find of bringing
Dr Russel: We have an existing
Sustainable Development Strategy and a whole host of interrelated
environmental coordination, mechanisms such as the Green or Environment
and Energy Cabinet Committees, and our research showsand
I think this Committee has shown many timesthat these are
not working properly. I think it would be better to focus on getting
the Sustainable Development Strategy working properly and coordination
around that, because then climate change can be considered alongside
those other issues with which it interacts, such as biodiversity.
Climate change will likely have major impacts on biodiversity
management in the UK. Also, you have to consider that action to
mitigate against climate change or to decarbonise the UK economy
could have negative as well as positive environmental impacts;
for example, a lot of environmentalists would argue against the
nuclear option because it has separate environmental impacts.
By considering all these things alongside each other, you can
give them proper balance, proper weight and proper consideration.
By siphoning off climate change, not only does it give policymakers
another thing to think about"Sustainable development
and climate changeare they not the same? Which one
do I have to do?"but it also means that climate change
is almost treated as a separate issue and you lose that holistic
nature and that interrelated nature of all these issues to do
with sustainable development.
Q4 Dr Turner: Some of us find it
difficult to disassociate climate change from energy policy. If
government structures do anything to promote joined-up thinking
across the whole field of energy, then I have yet to see it. We
are all familiar with the turf war between DTI and Defra on energy
and there is also not an inconsiderable involvement in the Department
of Transport. Do you think there is mileage in having a single
government department estate responsible for all facets of energy
policy, in order to get some proper joined-up thinking and joined-up
action in this field?
Dr Russel: Some of our research
has looked at energy policy. I would agree, it is a very fragmented
policy sector and the coordination of it has been a bit of a mess,
to say the least. As for putting it under one department, I think
there are things to be said for that, in that it would bring all
these activities under one roof and provide strong leadership
and a unified approach. On the other hand, my concern would be,
firstly, that it can take up to five years for a department to
bed down and operate properly following major restructuring or
reorganisationand climate change is an issue which has
to be dealt with now according to climate scientistsso
would that five-year delay have a detrimental effect. The second
aspect is that, when you consider the nature of energy use, you
have transport, local government, building regulations and that
aspect of it; you have energy production and consumption patterns
which all affect climate change; and then you have the whole private
sector in terms of even the energy production companies. By putting
it under one roof, would that department become too unwieldy to
operate effectively? I think it could work. In principle, it would
be a good idea, but I am a little worried that it could take too
long to settle down and it could be an unwieldy department.
Q5 Dr Turner: I take your point that
to throw everything into one department could create a negative
chaos of its own. If we have to work with the structures that
we have now, can you see any way of streamlining them and making
them more effective in the immediate future?
Dr Russel: There is an existing
array of mechanisms available that are suitable for coordinating
these things and I think a lot of it boils down to having a sustained
period of political leadership. Someone at the very topthat
is, the Prime Ministerneeds to grapple with this issue.
I can imagine that DTI would not be too happy with such an involvement
but someone from the top needs to grapple this issue and push
it through the Whitehall agenda. Also, you cannot just impose
this top-down leadership. Our research has found that officials
do not necessarily have the skills and the capacity to work day-to-day
on these things, to coordinate and know where to go to and the
know-how to generate information so they can feed it into the
different committees of government, which is a core aspect of
coordination as it can help identify where the impacts of a policy
are likely to spill over. I would say that you need sustained
political leadership but you also need to have appropriate training
and help for those people who have to make the policy. That is
either through providing training or providing them with a pool
of expertise on which they can draw to help them come together
and help them join up.
Q6 Dr Turner: That is quite a long-term
Dr Russel: Yes.
Q7 Dr Turner: But I understand what
you are saying. Something, I have to say, I have suspected myself
for a long time is that too many of our silos are occupied by
people without the right expertise. We need a quick fix for dealing
with that situation. Can you propose one?
Dr Russel: A quick fix would be
for the Prime Minister or someone of very high standing in government
to take the lead on this, to take a sustained lead and follow
it through. That would be my suggestion from my research. If you
look, for example, at the Treasury spending review, it is a very
centralised process but what the Treasury wants from that they
often get and the departments pull together because there is funding
related to it. A good centralised process would be a quick fix.
Q8 Dr Turner: We are also proposing
to set up an Office of Climate Change. That will be yet another
institution but, on the other hand, an overarching institution,
able to comment and offer advice on all aspects, and with the
Climate Change Committee would be an arm's length body to advise,
hopefully with the right expertise. How do you see this operating
with all the other myriad branches of Whitehall?
Dr Russel: The first thing I would
say is that placing it in Defra is probably not the best place.
I think this Climate Change Office should be placed at the heart
of Government; that is, the Cabinet Office, which has a traditional
coordinating role in Whitehall. Defra, as has been found with
the Sustainable Development Unitand I think this Committee
has criticised its stature and status by being placed in Defrahas
insufficient clout to get other departments to work together towards
this cross-cutting agenda. In the Cabinet Office, it is at the
apex of the departmental system and, if you take the example of
the Better Regulation Executive, it has more authority, is better
resourced for these types of things and has better expertise to
work on cross-cutting issues. I also have concerns that it overlaps
with aspects of the Sustainable Development Unit and the work
that it does. I think the Government really needs to clarify the
roles and to make sure that there is not overlap or that one body
thinks the other is picking up on an issue and it is not and therefore
you do not get an issue addressed. I think those roles need to
be clarified and the office needs to be put in the heart of Government.
Q9 Dr Turner: Mark you, if we follow
your line of argument to its logical conclusion: the Cabinet Office
or the Office of the Prime Minister, which one might alternatively
call? it is going to become so all-powerful that departments like
Defra and the DTI could be very much downgraded which of course
they would resist. Do you see problems there?
Dr Russel: I can see departmental
resistance. This is the centre getting in on some departments'
turf, if you like. However, one of the centre's role in this,
especially since the Modernising Government Agenda, has been to
try to manage and tackle cross-cutting issues which cut across
all departmental remits or many departmental remits. In many ways,
as it is such a crucial cross-cutting issue and something that
Tony Blair is signalling as a major, major concern for his Government,
I would say the Cabinet Office is the logical place to put it,
as that is where cross-cutting issues which have been the priority
of the centre of government have naturally been situated.
Q10 Dr Turner: Of course this would
not be the first cross-cutting issue to be addressed through a
cross-departmental Cabinet Committee, even if it is the most important
one so far. How do you view the precedence in terms of the history
of these committees and their effectiveness as giving hope for
the future of climate change?
Dr Russel: I would go back to
looking at the most successful initiatives that have been centrally
driven, like issues to do with social exclusion. The National
Audit Office has done some work on this and they have been quite
complementaryokay, nothing is ever perfectabout
the way they tried to join the departments up on this, and that
was initially managed from the Cabinet Office. That worked quite
well. However, if things are not managed more centrally, unless
it is in a department's common interest ... Let us take the European
Union, for example. It is in every department's interest to speak
with a common voice and to coordinate, so that they do not end
up having to implement policy of which they were not fully aware
of and which they did not have a full input into. You have the
departments coming together there. There is also a centralised
process that is managed by the Foreign Office rather than the
Cabinet Office, but, because there is that common interest, not
being placed in the Cabinet Office I do not think is an issue.
But where there is not a common interest, such as areas of climate
change, I think that central location is the key thing. There
are examples, such as with environmental coordination, where some
bits have been in the Cabinet Office, such as the Cabinet Committee
on the Environment, but other bits have been managed by Defra,
and that has lowered the status and made it more difficult to
Q11 Dr Turner: So no easy answers.
Dr Russel: No easy answers, no.
Q12 Mark Pritchard: You mentioned
common interest. Of course, there is increasing common interest
across government departments in the area of fiscal control and
taxation, et cetera. I understand why you say the Cabinet Office,
and I agree with your point on that, but, in the ideal world,
if there were more believers in the Treasurygiven that
common interest and given that the Treasury really is the heart
of Government, we believe, rather than the Cabinet Officedo
you think there should be a dedicated unit or that this unit should
perhaps be placed in the Treasury?
Dr Russel: When I was doing earlier
work on environmental policy coordination, the one question I
asked of people within the departments and within Defra was: Do
you think it should be placed in Defra, the Cabinet Office or
the Treasury? The common perception was Cabinet Office perhaps,
Treasury perhaps not, and the Treasury was quite reluctant to
take on board this issue. The Treasury has tried with the Comprehensive
Spending Review (which, as you know, is where the funding is allocated,
so it ties funding to core priorities which the Treasury sets)
to integrate sustainable development into the spending review.
In the 2002 review they introduced this compulsory Sustainable
Development Report but our research shows that these reports are
really done after they have put together their spending bids.
The people we interviewed said, "No one took it seriously.
We just wrote it in a few days at the end of the bids" and
yet the Treasury still approved funding and did not appear to
put any conditions on or to change the departments' spending plans,
because their Sustainable Development Report was not up to scratch.
I would say that the Treasury is very hesitant to take any leadership
Q13 Mark Pritchard: It is very unusual
for the Treasury to have a light touch on important strategic
issues in government unless it has other reasons for which it
wants to have a lighter touch. Do you think the leadership you
alluded to at the beginning of your comments today needs to come
as much from the Treasury as it does top-down, from the Prime
Dr Russel: I think the Treasury
is a very useful focus for coordinating such issues because it
is the department which controls public spending and it has a
very sophisticated coordination machinery of its own which is
related to that public spending. In theory, it is a very good
place to put an Office for Climate Change, for example, but I
am not sure at the moment whether the Treasury will be willing
to take leadership.
Q14 Colin Challen: In your evidence
you have referred to a number of centralised and diffuse mechanisms
to deal with cross-cutting issues like climate change. Could you
give us one or two examples of best practice of either type, whether
it is the vertical, top-down approach or the diffuse, horizontal
approach? Are there good examples that you can cite?
Dr Russel: In my own research,
I have come across few very good examples. There has been very
little research on this, apart from at the delivery, the policy
implementation end, where it tends to be more bottom-up, where
they use local expertise and that kind of thing; for example,
when dealing with unemployment issues, creating the one-stop shop
and that kind of thing, so it has been very localised implementation,
so very much a bottom-up approach. In our recent research, we
looked at the Strategic Defence Review, specifically an environmental
appraisal of the Strategic Defence Review. That had a combination
of top-down and bottom-up processes, where the Minister said,
"Okay, we want an environmental appraisal on this" and
then a team from the Defence estates came togetherit was
almost like an organic processand said, "Okay, we
are going to do the environmental appraisal. We are going to bring
in the experts and we are going to do it in this way." They
produced quite a good assessment of the environmental impact in
the Defence Review and the information they generated was used
to coordinate. They said to other stakeholders, "This could
be the impact here, what do you think? Which option would you
prefer us to take?" and then they could choose an option
based on the possible or respective impacts. The initial call
came from the top down but then it tended to be a very bottom-up
process, where they did not initially have the expertise, they
brought it in, they learned as they went along. My only criticism
of it was that it occurred too late in the process, so the policy
direction had already been set, but it still had an impact on
the final outcomes and they tweaked it here and there to reduce
the environmental impact based on the assessment.
Q15 Colin Challen: Could the environmental
impact that you have mentioned been further reduced if they had
started earlier? Was it a bit of an add-on?
Dr Russel: It was not strictly
an add-on, but it was not done at the very beginning. It started
mid way through the process. I think it would have been more robust
had they started it earlier.
Q16 Colin Challen: In a general sense,
does that indicate that departments should really have, internally,
their own experts, rather than having to feel that they are told
to go and get somebody from outside?
Dr Russel: I personally think
departments should have their own experts. I suspect that they
probably do have their own experts in many cases but the people
do not really know where find them. It is the case with some of
the people I have interviewed, where they have been told to do
something like a regulatory impact assessment or a strategic environmental
assessment or some other evidence-gathering process, that they
have asked their boss: "Where do I go?" and they have
said, "I don't know. Try here" and they have been bounced
around from place to place and eventually found someone who can
help them but it is probably too late by then.
Q17 Colin Challen: They cannot really
help when they do have this multiplicity of different organisations,
the SDU, the SDC, the OCCand I am sure there are many other
acronyms that you could come up with as well. It does not seem
to me to be just a case of in which department one of these bodies
may be located, although we seem to have heard already that being
located within Defra is not always the best, most powerful place
to be in this sense. Do you get a sense that perhaps some of these
bodies are just a product of "initiative-itis" or the
need for a political statement to create an office, to have a
few civil servants running around for a while doing it, saying,
"Box ticked, job done," and then, after a while, it
loses its impetus?
Dr Russel: This goes back to the
point I made at the beginning, I think. We already have a strategy,
for example, for sustainable development which is not working
very well and then it is, "Oh, climate change is an issue,
so we'll set this up," the box is ticked but the government
is not following it through and not providing that sustained leadership
and dedication to the task.
Q18 Colin Challen: Who should provide
that leadership? We can always say it is the Prime Minister but
that is a bit of
Dr Russel: The Prime Minister
has lots of issues they have to deal with. I think the initial
spark probably has to come from the Prime Minister but then you
need other senior colleagues, such as the Chancellor, and you
also need other core parts of government, such as the Treasury
and the Cabinet Office on board, just to keep the sustained momentum
behind it. In my interviews, departmental officials also said
there is a lack of support within their own departments from the
senior Civil Service. So it has to go beyond senior ministers
and down to the next level of the senior Civil Service for them
to provide the leadership within their departments.
Q19 Colin Challen: We have had the
creation of the Office of Climate Change, we have the SDU. Is
there a case that some of these bodies ought to be merged? We
have already touched on departmental mergers, and perhaps with
some of these bodies it would be easier and more commonsensical
to merge them, so that, when people do go looking for experts,
they can go straight to the obvious choice and perhaps get things
done a bit quicker and more efficiently.
Dr Russel: I think there probably
is a case for rationalising the amount of these bodies. Probably
what department officials need is a centralised body or a few
centralised bodies they can go to, then that body feeds them back
to their own departmental experts, and then there is communication
between all three of themso you have departmental experts,
policymakers and a centralised body.