1. What motivated you to apply for this role, and what relevant experience would you bring to it?
This organisation will be dealing with the most important issue of our time and for the foreseeable future: our environment. I am thrilled at the prospect of applying my skills and experience to this endeavour—there is no field of activity more motivating than this, for me.
I have experience of establishing, growing and developing independent public sector organisations, including regulators and super-regulators. I have a wealth of experience of regulation and oversight. I have board and chair level experience. I am used to working alongside governments while being independent, challenging government where appropriate. And with 70% of our land in agricultural use, I hope my understanding of farming and the way it is regulated will be helpful in the role.
2. If appointed are there specific areas within your new responsibilities where you will need to acquire new skills or knowledge?
Although I understand regulation and have experience of establishing and running the key functions of the new body—monitoring, analysis, research, investigation, complaints handling, enforcement, external engagement and reporting and so on—I am not an environmentalist per se, and so have much to learn. That is an attraction of the job for me. I do not come with pre-conceptions.
3. How were you recruited? Were you encouraged to apply, and if so, by whom?
I received a standard email from the OEP recruitment team, suggesting this role might be of interest to me. I applied through the established procedure.
I have spoken maybe half a dozen times with the Secretary of State, about regulation. On one occasion some time ago—I can’t remember when—we discussed OEP and he suggested I might be interested, but also said he would be looking for a broad range of candidates. I thought nothing of it at the time.
4. Do you currently or potentially have any business, financial or other non- pecuniary interests or commitments, that might give rise to the perception of a conflict of interest if you are appointed? How do you intend to resolve any potential conflicts of interests if you are appointed?
5. If appointed what professional or voluntary work commitments will you continue to undertake, or do you intend to take on, alongside your new role? How will you reconcile these with your new role?
I am likely to act as independent chair for a sub-committee of the Ofqual Board during 2021, but not thereafter. That is expected to occupy up to two days of my time each week during 2021. It will end by December 2021 at the latest.
I sit on a challenge panel for the Ministry of Justice, part of its governance arrangement in moving probation services to a new delivery model. This takes up a few hours every six weeks or so and is due to end in April. I intend to see this to fruition.
I am a board member of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. I will resign should I be appointed to OEP.
I have no other role and do not intend to take on any other role.
6. Have you ever held any post or undertaken any activity that might cast doubt on your political impartiality? If so how will you demonstrate your political impartiality in the role if appointed?
No. Quite the contrary. I believe I am known to be politically impartial, and independent in all senses.
7. Do you intend to serve your full term of office?
8. If appointed what will be your main priorities on taking up the role?
a) Establishing the organisation and its ways of working, including embedding our duty to act objectively and impartially in all we do
b) Developing and consulting on the organisation’s strategy (to include our enforcement strategy) and our priorities
c) Developing and implementing monitoring and complaints handling strategies
d) Developing stakeholder relations
e) Demonstrating our independence, and our capability as it builds—enabling us to dissipate (over time) any pre-determined views and fears.
9. How will you protect and enhance your personal independence in the role, and the institutional independence of the OEP from the Government?
I believe I start from a good position: I bring a strong, uncompromised reputation for independence, integrity, and doing the right thing. In my experience, independence is best exercised responsibly, but in steadfast fashion and from day one. An early test will be in relation to the resourcing of OEP.
OEP needs to build and demonstrate heft. It must develop its own well-informed, evidence-based opinions on central matters. I intend to build an organisation well able to do that. And OEP must develop its power of voice. I will be central to that.
A combination of transparency and carefully thought-through ways of working (as between the organisation and others, including government) will be important, alongside good Non-Executive Director and Executive staff appointments. I and other OEP leaders must set the tone and culture of OEP, to suit its remit and position.
An early test will be in relation to the structure and operating model of OEP. Others have already considered this and there are various proposals afoot, but organisational design is a matter for OEP of course.
10. How will you ensure the operational independence of the “Interim Environmental Governance Secretariat” prior to the OEP being established?
I appreciate the good work done by the secretariat to date. It should enable us to hit the ground running to some extent, and I am grateful for that, as time is pressing.But candidly, the sooner OEP can recruit its own board and staff and cut the umbilical cord, the better. Those of us who will form and be part of the new organisation must develop its ways of working and its strategy and policy, rather than those within Defra who have dutifully nurtured the concept of OEP.
Meanwhile, I am absolutely conscious of the risks, and will be determined not to compromise the organisation and its potential effectiveness. A first step is to recruit a capable and independent interim CEO.
There is a balance to be struck, in taking (with thanks) the good work of the secretariat but being clear what now rests with the chair and the interim CEO.
11. What risks do you think the OEP will face over your term of office? How do you intend to manage them?
a) Resource constraints. I have no doubt that like others in the public sector, we will be pressed for resource. Here, I will be determined—able to present well-crafted and evidence business cases and resource bids, and ready to escalate if required.
b) An unmanageable number of complaints—in the sense that they become the main body of work for the organisation, at a cost to other important work. The answer lies not just in sufficient resourcing overall. We must develop sensitive complaints triage, able to identify the material or potentially material and target our efforts to where they matter most.
c) Risks to public confidence. OEP must be seen to be credible—influential with government but independent of it, focused on the right things, a responsible organisation keeping government on track and able to point out to government any failings. This is different to being a campaign group of course, or the champion of complaints on immaterial matters, yet some will wish for that. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating: we must crack on and do our job.