VERIFICATION OF AGRI-ENVIRONMENT EXPENDITURE
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
to Jim Knight regarding "Special Report No 3/2005 concerning
rural developmentverification 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
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
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
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