Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


VERIFICATION OF AGRI-ENVIRONMENT EXPENDITURE (12921/05)

Letter from Lord Bach, Minister for Sustainable Farming and Food, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 10 November 2005[96] to Jim Knight regarding "Special Report No 3/2005 concerning rural development—verification of Agri-Environment Expenditure". I am replying as the Minister responsible for this area, and I am sorry for the long delay.

  I agree that the Court of Auditors' conclusions are of concern and that, while the Court of Auditors' report did not extend to an assessment of the environmental benefits of spending, that such an assessment is essential. It is for this reason that Defra has a budget of approximately £1.3 million per annum for the monitoring and evaluation of agri-environment schemes in England (agri-environment schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are the responsibility of the relevent administrations, who may wish to offer their own replies). Our budget is used to fund projects that monitor the performance of agri-environment schemes against their environmental objectives as well as other criteria, such as economic and administrative effectiveness. Defra also has a budget of approximately £2.4 million to fund research to support the delivery and development of agri-environment schemes. Details of research and monitoring projects funded from these budgets can be found on the Defra website at http://www2.defra.gov.uk/research/project_data/projects. asp?SCOPE=0&M=PSA&V=EP%3A150. This information is currently being updated.

  To inform the Review of Agri-Environment Schemes in England, completed in 2004, two review projects were commissioned; the first involved a review of agri-environment monitoring and research outcomes; and the second an economic evaluation of the schemes. The results of these evaluations of CSS and ESAs were generally positive but some improvements were needed and these were taken into account in developing ES. The reports from these reviews are available on the Defra website at http://www.defra.gov.uk/erdp/schemes/esas/monitoring/default.htm and http://statistics.defra.gov.uk/esg/evaluation/agrienv/default.asp respectively.

  Following the Agri-Environment Review, a new scheme, Environmental Stewardship (ES), was launched in March 2005. This has some novel aspects and involves significant public expenditure. It is therefore vital that it is closely monitored and changes made to the scheme if necessary. Various projects have already been commissioned to monitor the environmental effectiveness of ES. An important current project, which will allow an initial evaluation of ES over its first 18 months, involves: an analysis of the uptake of the scheme and options within it; interviews with scheme participants and non-participants; field surveys to form baseline assessments of the condition of environmental features; and modelling of the environmental outcomes that should be delivered based on the uptake of management options. Another project is establishing on-farm plots which will allow a comparison of the biodiversity benefits of Entry Level options with ES, with management which just meets the requirements of cross-compliance.

  These projects will form part of an Evaluation Plan for ES for the coming years, which is currently being developed. The Plan will set out how the various elements of the scheme will be monitored and evaluated against various criteria to ensure that it is effective, efficient and represents value for money. The Plan will be published on the Defra website in the next few months.

  The principle of ensuring that agri-environment schemes meet their objectives goes beyond the UK, of course, and is an important element of our approach to EU policy on this expenditure. We have pressed for a more strategic approach to the EU rural development budget, including greater clarity on the policy objectives which it seeks to attain. I am pleased that, as part of that approach, we have secured the Agriculture Council's provisional agreement (pending the European Parliament's opinion) to a set of Community Strategic Guidelines for expenditure in the 2007-13 period; and we will encourage the Commission to ensure that it monitors the impact of this expenditure effectively.

26 January 2006




96   Correspondence with Ministers, 45th Report of Session 2005-06, HL Paper 243, p 376. Back


 
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