50.Defra employs about 2,000 staff in its core department, with another 6,000 employed by its executive agencies and 15,000 by its Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs)—principally the Environment Agency. Staff working for the Department and its agencies are surveyed annually on their views of their work, management and leadership.
51.The Civil Service-wide People Survey includes an engagement index, reflecting five key areas such as pride in an organisation, inspiration and motivation to do a good job, and feeling a personal attachment to an organisation. Whilst Defra’s overall engagement score has increased by two percentage points to 54% since 2013, this is five points below the Civil Service average. Staff remain concerned about the effectiveness of change management and leadership, and report a lack of clarity on Defra’s priorities and purpose. Defra’s scores on these aspects have been consistently below the civil service average for many years. Scores for staff engagement vary across the Defra family: the Rural Payments Agency scores lowest at 44%; others, such as the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and the Centre for Fisheries and Aquaculture Science hit 65% and 61% respectively.
52.Last year, then Permanent Secretary, Bronwyn Hill, stated she would focus on learning and development to tackle morale and absence of confidence in how the Department managed change. This year’s survey results show improvements regarding access and participation in learning and development activities. However, issues about confidence in change management and, in particular, in the ability of senior management to convey priorities and provide a convincing strategic future vision do not appear to have been fully addressed. The new Permanent Secretary, Clare Moriarty, like her predecessor, set out in detail her commitment to making further improvements when we met her in October.
53.Staff engagement is central to the effectiveness of Defra’s operations. Whether on the front-line responding to floods and animal disease outbreaks, or in back-office functions developing policies and supporting those delivering services, a motivated workforce underpins an effective Department. It is to the credit of staff working for Defra and its agencies that they have risen to the challenges to enable services to be delivered despite reducing resources. It is a concern, though, that Defra scores below the civil service average for staff engagement and on staff views of leadership. Clearly there are greater challenges in some agencies than others. We note what the new Permanent Secretary told us about a focus on staff and their development and a renewed focus on leadership.
54.We recommend that, in updating the Committee on how the Spending Review will impact on service delivery, Defra inform us about its strategy for maintaining morale among staff and for ensuring that valuable expertise is not lost.
55.Defra relies on staff in its arms-length bodies to deliver a range of priorities. However, the Department’s ability to provide them with effective strategic direction and to manage them so as to secure operational outcomes has been criticised by the NAO in its early review of the RPA’s CAP delivery programme. The review concluded that the different priorities of Defra, the RPA and other bodies were not resolved owing to differences in the organisations’ strategic direction and vision. This has led to delays in implementing new systems and to increased disallowance risk.
56.Defra’s ministers and senior leadership team must give greater priority to managing delivery bodies such as the Rural Payments Agency if the Department is to ensure effective outcomes from its policies. A shared vision and strategic direction is essential but this requires firm leadership and constructive relationships founded on good communication.
61 Defra, 2014 staff survey (accessed via 1 December 2015)
63 Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Early Review of the Common Agricultural Policy Delivery Programme,
Prepared 14 December 2015