6 Conclusion |
61. It is heartening that many of the recommendations
in our reports have been accepted by the Government, in whole
or in part, and that action has resulted in a number of respects.
It is particularly welcome to note the impact of our work in responding
at short notice to crises such as the floods of winter 2013-14,
contamination of meat, the emergence of tree diseases, and financial
pressures on the dairy industry. Key points where action has resulted
from our work include: specific recommendations on the draft Water
Bill being incorporated in the final legislation; increased investment
in flood defences; improving the profile of the importance of
flood defence maintenance funding; and improved dog control legislation.
More broadly, the focus of our cross-party political scrutiny,
and the attendant raising of public awareness, on issues across
Defra's remit has brought pressure to bear on the Government over
this Parliament to deliver on its plans and to ensure they best
meet the needs of interested parties. We hope this has helped
to ensure effective policies from CAP to CfP and from animal welfare
to environmental protection.
Key areas for follow-up
62. None the less, there are a range of areas where
insufficient action has been taken on our recommendations, including
on some recommendations which the Government had accepted in full.
For example, there have been warm words from Defra about the role
that can be played in improving policy through more explicitly
valuing natural capital and the services provided by our environment
to supply clean air, water and robust food supplies. This was
an approach we endorsed. We made specific recommendations on how
to put this into action. But it is not clear that Defra has yet
persuaded Ministers across the rest of government to take up the
challenge and the broad intentions of the Natural Environment
White Paper have yet to translate into actions that will transform
the way in which we protect and enhance the natural environment.
63. As discussed above, we would also encourage a
future Committee to follow up on some key recommendations in our
Report on Waste management in England which were not satisfactorily
addressed because of concurrent discussions at a European level.
By the end of the year, once EU negotiations on any new waste
proposals have substantively concluded, Defra should have sufficient
clarity to provide a future Committee with an update on what further
action (if any) will be necessary.
64. The unfolding implementation of the new CAP will
be a key issue impacting on a wide range of interested parties,
not only farmers and landowners who have to manage the outcomes
of policy decisions on the ground but also the wider public enjoying
the countryside and the benefits of a healthy natural environment.
Future Committee scrutiny could usefully focus not only on the
practical aspects of introducing a complex new system of CAP payments,
including for new countryside stewardship measures, but on the
Government's work to influence EU policy in Brussels. The new
CAP will not be static: Commissioner Hogan promises reform, and
the UK must ensure it influences this process from the outset.
A future Committee may wish to press Defra to identify clearly
the priorities they will be pursuing with the Commission ahead
of its 2017 review. A follow-up review of the role of the Groceries
Code Adjudicator in light of our recommendations might be welcomed
by dairy farmers and the wider industry who have heard the Government
express a willingness to consider action to ensure the effective
operation of supply chains.
65. On rural issues, as discussed above, we would
encourage a future Committee to continue scrutiny of the progress
with rural broadband coverage and indeed rural connectivity in
general. The Government and industry have promised a range of
coverage targets to ensure broadband and superfast broadband across
the country, but no date has yet been set for the achievement
of universal superfast broadband coverage. A future Committee
may wish to compare the improvements which the broadband rollout
has achieved in urban areas with those achieved in more rural
parts of the country. We fully support improving connectivity
in urban areas but this should not be at the cost of rural areas.
66. A wider example of insufficient action relates
to our recommendations concerning Defra's planned expenditure
in light of the impact of the 2010 Spending Review. Defra has
been required to make a 16.7% real terms reduction in resource
expenditure during the course of this Parliament and we raised
concerns regarding the lack of transparency about what this meant
for policy delivery each year. Our concerns on this issue have
not been satisfactorily addressed during this Parliament. In order
to enable proper scrutiny of expenditure, we would urge a future
Committee to continue to push for as much detail and transparency
as possible in the event of any future Departmental budget cuts.
Underlying our concerns during this Parliament has been the eroding
of Defra's capabilities to achieve its goals and to pursue successfully
its agenda beyond departmental boundaries, whether across Whitehall
or in Brussels. Future scrutiny of individual policies must bear
in mind the need for maintenance of sufficient expertise inside
the core department and a firm Ministerial lead on the environmental,
rural and agricultural agenda.
TAKING SCRUTINY FORWARD
67. The majority of issues we have addressed require
ongoing action, not simply one-off responses. To support a future
Committee in its scrutiny it would be helpful if Defra produced
an update to the Government response to each of our reports, one
year on, in order to provide Parliament with information on the
Department's progress in implementing our report recommendations.
68. Although our work programme has touched the vast
majority of Defra's responsibilities in some respect, we have
not had the opportunity to address all areas and some topics we
have been able to touch upon only briefly, despite their importance.
For example, we have not considered as a separate issue the contribution
of farming to climate change mitigation or areas of waste policy
outside of the management of municipal waste, nor have we had
the opportunity to spend much time looking in depth at air quality
matters. We have also not carried out separate inquiries on key
policy areas such as biodiversity offsetting and marine conservation,
although they have been briefly examined as part of our annual
review of Defra's performance.
- A future Committee will of course face the same
pressures as we have faced in attempting to cover the breadth
and depth of Defra's work in a limited time. Further, with the
Department responsible for handling emergency issues such as flooding,
animal and plant disease and food security, crises are likely
to emerge suddenly which will demand the Committee's attention
but which also add pressure to a stretched work programme. We
hope that this review will aid our successors in compiling a challenging
and effective work programme for a new Parliament. We wish them
every success in their task.