Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (F 70)

1.  The Government has today announced a Review of the UK Register of Organic Food Standards (UKROFS), which as the Committee knows acts as the competent authority responsible in the UK for the implementation of EU standards for organic produce. In form UKROFS is a Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB).


  2.  Government policy is that all executive NDPBs should be formally reviewed every five years, with the aim of securing improvements in the delivery of public services. Achieving a higher quality of service delivery and making services more responsive to meeting the needs of the people who use them are particularly important aims. Departments are also required to conduct a rolling programme of Better Quality Service (BQS) reviews across all their activities, including the agencies and NDPBs they sponsor, as well as their core functions. These reviews have similar aims and processes to the five-yearly NDPB reviews.

  3.  Both the five-yearly NDPB review and the BQS review of UKROFS have been scheduled for the current financial year. The two reviews are combined into a single review.


  4.  Reviews follow a standard format. There are two stages.

  5.  Stage 1, which is about to commence, considers whether the current organisational arrangements for providing the service are the best ones. Five options have to be considered:

    —  abolish—the process is no longer needed (or it could be significantly downsized or particular strands abolished).

    —  maintain NDPB status—but may involve reorganising the NDPB's operation to deliver a more effective and efficient service. The degree of restructuring will depend on the extent to which the need for improvements has been identified.

    —  strategically contract-out—competition, without the NDPB competing, against external bidders from the public and private sector. Competitive tendering is required.

    —  market test—hold a competition with the NDPB competing against external bidders from the public and private sector. Competitive tendering is required.

    —  privatise—the process is needed but does not have to be carried out by the public sector.

  The review will recommend one of these options to Ministers.

  6.  Stage 2 will begin once Ministers have decided which of the five Stage 1 options is to be adopted. The aim of Stage 2 is to identify ways of securing real improvements in the service provided and to make recommendations for their implementation. The development of an effective business planning framework is seen as an essential element in this process.


  7.  MAFF is responsible for the conduct and delivery of the review. The aim will be to complete Stage 1 and 2 within six to seven months.

  8.  The first stage of the review is expected to cover the following issues:

    (a)  The effectiveness of the present arrangements for discharging the national "competent authority" functions prescribed by Council Regulation (EEC) 2092/91 for regulating organic farming taking full account of:

    —  Government objectives for modernising public services, particularly the need for continuous improvement and better value for money;

    —  Government policy on the regulation of farming, in particular the Action Plan for Farming agreed at the Prime Minister's farm summit on 30 March 2000, and any parallel policy statements prepared by the devolved administrations;

    —  the likely growth in the size and number of businesses in the organic farming sector;

    —  the fact that responsibility for agriculture is now devolved to the administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales; and

    —  the absence of a clear legal base for UKROFS.

    (b)  The continuing need for the discretionary functions currently exercised by UKROFS, including:

    —  setting standards for organic produce, either where there are no EU standards or by supplementing EU standards;

    —  directly certifying producers who do not wish to register with the private sector certification bodies; and

    —  advising Ministers on organic sector issues, including commissioning R&D.

  Because UKROFS is a UK body, the Scottish Executive, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly will be closely involved in the review.

6 November 2000

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