3 Turning policy into practice |
Strategy for delivery
15. Whilst the NEWP's overall approach towards protecting
and enhancing the environment garnered widespread support, much
of our evidence expressed concerns about translating those approaches
into practical policies and programmes. Witnesses from a range
of sectors, including industry and environmental NGOs, referred
to potential problems with ensuring delivery of the NEWP's bold
aims. For example, the Countryside Alliance told us that, if fulfilled,
the NEWP's aims would "ensure a healthy balance and a secure
future for the natural environment", but it believed that
there was "no clear plan" or sufficient resources to
ensure the White Paper's objectives were delivered.
16. The NEWP contains 92 specific commitments but
little information as to how they link into an overarching strategy
for delivering the large-scale ambition to embed the value of
nature within decision-making. The Wildlife Trusts told us that
the NEWP failed to provide a single framework within which all
the new initiatives would be managed and that it provided no "clear
indication" of how the various actions and commitments would
be coordinated. In the organisation's view this led to a "confusion
of disparate concepts".
17. The Minister told us that Defra produced a quarterly
newsletter sent to all stakeholder groups to provide an update
on progress. However,
this document only includes descriptive snapshots of issues where
there is progress rather than a structured report on progress
against each of the 92 commitments. Whilst Defra's website provides
updates on specific strands of the NEWP (for example on progress
on establishing Nature Improvement Areas) these do not link together
to provide a means to track progress across the piece.
Furthermore, many of the 92 commitments have no timetable for
delivery, and for those that do it is not easy to find from public
sources whether these deadlines have, or have not, been met.
18. We are concerned
that Defra has not published an overarching action plan for delivery
of the White Paper's aims, nor has it produced a timetable for
delivering each of the White Paper's 92 commitments. There is
a danger that such a piecemeal approach to implementation will
lead to the White Paper failing to deliver its full benefits.
We therefore recommend that Defra publish a timetabled action
plan for delivering each of the White Paper's commitments, to
be reported on quarterly with an explanation for any slippage
in meeting deadlines.
19. Some witnesses criticised a lack of specific
targets in the NEWP. For example, the RSPB told us that there
should be a target to improve the status of all priority species
in England by 2020.
Wildlife and Countryside Link considered that the Government should
set measurable outcomes for recovery of vulnerable species and
habitats and mechanisms to deliver them.
The organisation Plantlife also wanted "firmer commitments"
to protect specific threatened or rare wildlife species,
and the Woodland Trust argued for a target to double woodland
cover in the next 50 years.
20. We recognise that a plethora of targets can dilute
effort and create an unhelpful focus on fulfilling targets rather
than achieving broad aims. However, if Defra, other government
departments, partner organisations and the wider public are to
know that success has been achieved, then outcomes need to be
clearly, quantifiably defined. There is a commitment in the NEWP
to develop a set of key indicators by "spring 2012"
to track progress on its ambitions but this has yet to be published.
We are disappointed that Defra has failed to meet this commitment.
We recommend that Defra identify
a number (perhaps ten in total) of key input and outcome measures
for its main ambitions of valuing natural capital, ensuring ecological
resilience and engaging the public in the natural environment.
The department should report progress against these in its Business
Plan. Furthermore, Defra should explicitly identify the outcomes
it expects its arm's length bodies to contribute to delivery of
the White Paper's aims.
21. The NEWP agenda will only be delivered through
actions across Whitehall. The key departments are Defra, the Cabinet
Office and HM Treasury, but other departments including the Department
for Communities and Local Government and the Departments for Health,
Education and Transport also have important roles. The NEWP's
goals also need to be achieved in the UK's Overseas Territories,
which have a significant part to play in improving global biodiversity.
Witnesses were concerned that this overseas aspect had not received
sufficient attention. The RSPB considered it "astonishing"
that the NEWP failed to make the "stretching commitments"
necessary for the UK to meet its international obligations, given
the large percentage of endemic species in the Overseas Territories.
22. We took evidence from the Economic Secretary
to the Treasury, Chloe Smith, and the Minister of State in the
Cabinet Office, Rt Hon Oliver Letwin, on the roles of their departments
in implementing the NEWP. In the White Paper the Cabinet Office
Minister of State for Government Policy is given specific responsibility
for embedding sustainability across government with a requirement
to review government departments' business plans quarterly.
However, witnesses told us that this approach would not provide
and were concerned that the institutional framework for delivering
the NEWP's ambitions remained "unclear and unsatisfactory".
The RSPB, for example, urged the Government to clarify "where
ultimate responsibility now lies and how departments beyond Defra
will be held to account".
Some witnesses' concerns went beyond simply doubting the ability
of government departments to co-ordinate action, with, for example,
Friends of the Earth considering that there were "contradictory
policies" across Whitehall.
23. Many witnesses considered that too much responsibility
for delivering the White Paper rested on Defra, with organisations
such as the National Trust concerned that the NEWP message had
therefore not gained "traction beyond the traditional natural
WWF-UK noted that the Treasury had not been part of the NEWP central
project team. They argued that this led to the impression that
the green economy policy was an "add-on" to core economic
concerns. Paul Wilkinson,
representing Wildlife and Countryside Link, noted that Defra had
made concerted efforts to bring together teams across Whitehall
to draft the NEWP, however since publication there had been a
"fragmentation of delivery".
24. Mr Letwin acknowledged that no single department
could muster the "necessary forces to ensure that the rest
of Whitehall pays attention" and noted that No. 10 and the
Cabinet Office had a central role to play in holding departments
to account. 
He told us that he was going through departmental business plans
to look "in every case" at whether sustainability had
been "built-in in an appropriate fashion".
25. We questioned the Ministers about how application
of NEWP principles would affect decision-makingfor example
on projects such as the High-Speed 2 rail project.
However, Mr Letwin did not address this point directly. His evidence
focussed on how government departments' in-house environmental
performance was improving but did not address how departments
could embed sustainability principles within their decision-making
and specific policy development.
26. The White Paper is a Government publication for
delivery across all departments. However, the document confines
itself largely to general principles rather than identifying specific
commitments to be placed on non-Defra departments. We
are disappointed that the Government has failed to integrate the
approaches in the White Paper into key policy areas such as planning
and transport and that this has limited the actions undertaken
so far by departments other than Defra. We look to the Government
to remedy this at the earliest opportunity.
27. Both Mr Letwin and Ms Smith's comments on valuing
natural capital focussed principally on publication of supplementary
guidance to the Green Book.
The Green Book is the Treasury's guidance for central government,
setting out a framework for the appraisal and evaluation of all
policies, programmes and projects. Ms Smith told us that "every
official discussion that deals with the cost/benefit analysis
of [infrastructure] decisions does draw on the [Green Book] guidance".
Mr Letwin told us that Impact Assessments were being enforced
"more aggressively than previously".
However, he also noted that, just because the guidance had changed,
it did not mean that the Government had "somehow cracked
it". He recognised
that it needed a cultural shift to get people not simply to "tot
up [costs] on cash registers" but to recognise that building
natural capital has "quantifiable, rigorously assessable
effects" on economic and social prosperity.
Defra officials also emphasised that the NEWP's green economy
approach was "very much part of the Government's overall
28. We welcome publication of the supplementary guidance
to HM Treasury's Green Book on accounting for environmental impacts
and Ministers' reassurances as to its importance. However, we
are not convinced that there is a clear plan to embed its application
firmly across Whitehall. We have seen little evidence of the cultural
change required if officials are fully to adopt wider approaches
to economic valuation. We
recommend that HM Treasury require each government department
to undertake an inventory of the natural capital assets it controls,
or that its policies have an impact on, so as to provide an evidence
base for their decision-making.
29. We further
recommend that Defra, with HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office,
lead an inter-departmental programme of training on the use of
ecosystems services approaches in Impact Assessments.
30. We further
recommend that HM Treasury undertakes and publishes an assessment
of the use of the supplementary guidance to the Green Book by
all government departments within 12 months.
31. HM Treasury
should provide this Committee with an update on all of these issues
in 12 months' time.
32. The Government has been conducting a widespread
review of regulation under its Red Tape Challenge programme. The
Environment Theme Proposals stemming from this review were published
in March 2012. Of
255 regulations, 132 are to be improved, mainly through "simplification
and consolidation", 70 will be kept since they "uphold
important environmental protections," and 53 "obsolete"
regulations are to be removed.
Alongside this there is to be "smarter implementation on
33. The Government announced in the November 2011
Autumn Statement a specific review of the Habitats,
and Wild Birds Directives.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that:
I am worried about the combined impact of the green
policies adopted not just in Britain, but also by the European
if we burden [British businesses] with endless social
and environmental goalshowever worthy in their own rightthen
not only will we not achieve those goals, but the businesses will
fail, jobs will be lost, and our country will be poorer".
This review reported in March 2012 and concluded
In the large majority of cases the implementation
of the Directives is working well, allowing both development of
key infrastructure and ensuring that a high level of environmental
protection is maintained. However, some cases do encounter delays,
although the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives may only be one
34. The Review identified four key areas where change
would improve the implementation of the Directives for the benefit
of both the economy and the environment:
- Facilitating nationally significant
- Improving implementation processes and streamlining
- Improving the quality, quantity and sharing of
- Improving the customer experience.
35. The Review also committed to assessing how a
move could be made towards a broader ecosystems approach, for
example by "examining its role in helping to make strategic
choices about mitigation and compensation where a number of projects
are impacting on the same area".
36. The Minister responsible for Government policy
advice, Oliver Letwin, told us that "environmental regulation
is there for a purpose" and that having been through "all
of it, it is necessary as regulation".
He wanted, however, clearer guidance on the regulations since
these could be made a "great deal simpler while preserving
every single one of the constraints that they rightly impose".
37. We were
heartened to hear from Ministers at the Cabinet Office that recent
reviews of environmental regulation have found that the regulatory
regime is largely fit for purpose. We regret that certain Ministers
have given a false impression about the impact of environmental
regulation on the economy. A robust evidence base is needed to
enable government departments take account of both positive and
negative impacts of regulations. We recommend that reviews of
regulation take an even-handed approach and that departments communicate
both the economic benefits and costs of specific regulations.
25 Ev w2 Back
Ev 118 Back
Q 270 Back
Defra Natural Environment White Paper webpages www.defra.gov.uk/environment/ Back
Ev 85 Priority species are those set out in the UK Biodiversity
Action Plan. A revised list was published in 2007 containing some
1150 priority species and 65 habitats Back
Ev 114 Back
Ev w12 Back
Ev w17 Note: Doubling woodland cover would require annual planting
of some 15,000 hectares a year of new native woodland Back
NEWP p 66, para 6.5 Back
Ev 84 Back
NEWP p 43, para 3.40 Back
Ev w56 Back
Ev w13 Back
Ev 85 Back
Ev w20 Back
Ev 107 Back
Ev w59 Back
Q 93, Paul Wilkinson Back
Q 219 Back
Q 221 Back
Q 225 Note: GreenLINK, representing organisations active in the
parks and green space sector, highlighted the High-Speed 2 rail
link and the expansion of regional airports as examples of conflicting
messages around economic growth and the balance with social and
environmental gains. Ev w74 Back
Q 223, Mr Letwin Back
HM Treasury, Accounting for Environmental Impacts: Supplementary
Guidance, February 2012 Back
Q 225 Back
As above Back
Q 267 Back
Q 238 Back
Ev 1, Peter Unwin, Director General, Environment and Rural Group,
Defra, Red Tape Challenge-Environment Theme Proposals, March
As above, p 1 Back
The air quality and emissions chapter in the Environmental Theme
Proposals states that the impact of existing legislation is to
be reviewed over the coming year, with table 1 setting out initial
Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation
of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora Back
Council Directive 2009/147/EC , 2009 on the conservation of wild
"Autumn Statement; policies at a glance",
The Telegraph, 29 November 2011 Back
Defra environment webpages www.defra.gov.uk/habitats-review/ Back
Defra environment webpages www.defra.gov.uk/habitats-review/ Back
Q 230 Back
As above Back