Examination of Witness (Questions 1-19)|
WEDNESDAY 31 OCTOBER 2001
Chairman: Can I welcome you once again, and
we recall you coming to our Committee in the last Parliament,
when you were Green Minister at the Treasury, if I remember rightly.
And I do not know whether it was your doing but the green aspect
of the Treasury's performance did improve towards the end of this
period, and we were glad to see that. Obviously, we want to look
particularly at the new structure of Departments, the effect that
might have on joined-up Government in relation to the environment,
and also a number of other responsibilities which you have at
the DTI. I will ask Mr Gerrard to lead off.
1. Can I start with this question about structures.
Obviously, we had a number of changes post election in departmental
structures. I think we would probably agree that it is important
that we get the right structures within Whitehall to make sure
that policies are effectively delivered. Do you think we have
got the right structures there, and do you think the changes that
have been made are for the better?
(Ms Hewitt) Yes; yes, I do, looking across the Government
as a whole. In terms of our situation, our own responsibility
for energy and our DTI responsibilities for the environment have
not changed as a result of the reorganisation. We had a very close
working relationship with DETR before the election, we had a number
of joint projects, and so on, and those have moved, as far as
I can see, quite seamlessly to DEFRA, with whom we have the same
good working relationship.
2. Of course, DETR, I suppose some of their
responsibilities are now in DEFRA, some in DTLR. Do you think
that is going to make it easier or more difficult to co-ordinate,
where you have got two Departments instead of one that you might
have to work with?
(Ms Hewitt) This is early days. I have not seen any
problems myself from the point of view of working with DEFRA,
for instance, on energy efficiency matters or the main Environmental
Directives coming out of Europe, and working with DTLR on sustainable
transport issues. I do not think that is a big problem really.
The fact of the matter is that wherever you put the departmental
boundaries you have to be able to work right across Westminster
and Whitehall in pursuit of joint objectives, and I think we learned
a lot of lessons about that in the first Parliament, which we
are now applying in the second. I should say, I have made one
change within the DTI. It always seemed a bit odd to me, when
I was the DTI's Green Minister, in my last ministerial post, that
we separated the DTI's environmental responsibilities from the
energy responsibilities; they are intimately connected. So Brian
Wilson, who is my Energy Minister, is also the DTI's Green Minister.
3. What sort of arrangements do you have for
communication between Departments now, with DEFRA, with the DTLR?
(Ms Hewitt) We have close working at the official
level, and I can go into the details later if you like, but we
do have a number of joint projects, like Envirowise, or our joint
responsibility with DEFRA for WRAP, the waste initiative, and
so on, where we already had in place joint official teams. We
had another one, for instance, on the Foresight, vehicle of the
future, clean transport technology, where again officials have
been working very closely for the last couple of years, and those
arrangements have remained in place; the fact that in some cases
it is a different Department that is housing those officials does
not really seem to have disturbed the official-level relationship.
And then, obviously, we have ministerial co-operation on issues
as they arise, and an overarching view of the Government's green
4. How often would Ministers be in communication?
(Ms Hewitt) I have not counted that, but since the
election there have been several rounds of correspondence on environmental
matters. Environmental issues come up as a constant part of our
work, so I have not been counting, but this is pretty frequent,
because we are dealing with, for instance, European Directives
in which many Departments will have an interest.
5. You said you had learned some lessons from
the last Parliament which you are applying in this Parliament;
what were those?
(Ms Hewitt) I think the main issue, Chairman, is the
need to ensure that instead of departmental silos working to departmental
objectives we have stronger relationships across those Departments
working towards common objectives. And one very important step
forward in the last Parliament was the creation of joint PSA targets;
so, for instance, we have a joint PSA target, was with DETR, now
with DEFRA, on sustainable energy and reducing emissions. I think
an outcome of the new spending review will be an increase in the
number of cross-departmental PSA targets. We also found in the
first Parliament we needed, this is not an environmental example,
but, for instance, in the case of Sure Start, we experimented
with having a situation where there was a budget that was actually
funded from one Department but where the lead on the spending
for that budget came from a different Department and there was
a cross-departmental team responsible for it. And, that sort of
cross-departmental working, to a common objective, with several
different Departments mobilised behind it, we will see, I think,
much more of that in this Parliament.
6. How many cross-departmental targets have
you got involved in, in your Department?
(Ms Hewitt) We have got the one on the environment,
which I have just referred to, with DEFRA, we have a joint target
with the Treasury on productivity.
7. And the Foresight?
(Ms Hewitt) I think so. I have not got all my PSA
targets in my head.
8. We are talking about two?
(Ms Hewitt) We are talking about two joint targets.
I have no doubt we will have more coming out of the next spending
9. Just continuing from where Mr Gerrard left
off, really, in respect of the DTI's responsibilities for planning,
could you give the Committee some indication of what responsibilities
you have for planning, or how the work of the RDAs fit in with
the planning responsibilities that there are, and how this actually
pans out through the Government Offices? What is the relationship
between, on the one hand, the DTI, on the other hand the Regional
Development Agencies, and Government Offices at the regional level?
(Ms Hewitt) I will do my best on this. Obviously,
we are not the planning Department, that responsibility lies with
DTLR. We took over responsibility as the sponsoring Department
for the RDAs in the reorganisation after the election, which is
something I very much welcome, and we are building, I think, a
very effective relationship with the RDAs. They have raised with
us, as indeed business often raises with us, the whole issue of
the planning regime; and, from the perspective of the Regional
Development Agencies, we have the RDAs who are the strategic leaders
really within their region for developing and getting agreement
to an economic strategy for the region, and, clearly, that then
has implications for land use, and therefore for planning decisions.
Now different RDAs have approached that issue somewhat differently.
In regional terms, my own RDA, EMDA, concluded a concordat on
planning with all the planning authorities in the region, and
that was designed very much to speed up planning decisions in
response to business concerns about delays in planning. In the
North West, the RDA has taken a very active role in actually buying
and assembling parcels of land, in order to get derelict land
cleaned up and freed up for development as part of their pursuit
of sustainable development in the region. Stephen Byers and DTLR
are now, of course, working on a Green Paper on the planning regime.
I think it would be very desirable if the relationship between
the planning authorities and the RDAs were to be clarified as
part of that Green Paper consultation process; and I also think
that there is a case, where you have a major planning issue that
is going to a planning inquiry, for the RDA to be a statutory
consultee in that matter. But this whole issue, of how land use
plans and planning decisions fit within the regional economic
strategy on which the RDA has been in the lead, is not, I think,
yet fully worked out, and people are learning from experience,
they are building the relationships they need at a regional and
a local level, and different RDAs are taking a different approach
10. But do you have confidence that the whole
issue of environmental sustainability is factored into that mechanism
that you talk about, in respect of where individual RDAs and Government
Offices are trying to get some kind of balance to sort out the
direction where they go forward?
(Ms Hewitt) Yes, I believe it is; partly, of course,
because the RDA has very clear statutory objectives, which include
11. I just wanted to come on to that, because
I remember very clearly when the statutory objectives of the RDAs
were being discussed in their draft form, and at the stage when
the legislation came before us in Parliament there were some of
us who wanted us to have a duty for sustainable development within
the work of the RDAs, and what, in fact, we ended up with was
a duty to take account of sustainable development, which is not
quite the same thing. And I just wonder what mechanisms you have
to make sure that when the RDAs mainstream environmental objectives
in their work, what do you do to monitor to make sure that the
environmental sustainability one is as important perhaps as economic
objectives or social objectives, what mechanism do you have to
make sure that environment is not trodden rough-shod over, in
(Ms Hewitt) My understanding of the RDAs' statutory
objectives is that they include, a fifth one, to contribute to
the achievement of sustainable development in the United Kingdom,
where it is relevant in its area to do so. So it is a statutory
12. But there is a caveat at the end,
is there not?
(Ms Hewitt) Yes, but it is a statutory purpose, not
a `take account of'. Now, in my experience, the RDAs are not saying,
"Well, we have an economic objective there and we might have
to qualify it with a social or an environmental objective."
They also have a very clear objective to further economic development
and regeneration, and, for the RDAs, as for the Government, these
things go together. It is quite clearly desirable, from, if you
like, a narrow economic perspective, to bring contaminated land
back into use and to decontaminate it, to regenerate those areas
and to make what has been a polluted eyesore into something that
is going to be a desirable business park, have wonderful housing
on it, have some leisure facilities, whatever. And that is what
the RDAs are seeking to do, because the more attractive, the cleaner
they can make their region the more attractive they will be to
people to live and work in those regions.
13. Do you have someone actually monitoring
to what extent the RDAs are achieving this?
(Ms Hewitt) The process we are in is that, having
agreed in the last Parliament the economic strategies for each
region, we are now firming up the delivery plans, the business
plans, with each RDA. And in those plans each RDA will commit
itself to high-level objectives and then to more precise objectives
under that, and we will be monitoring, through the Government
14. So it is the Government Offices that will
be doing this: which people particularly?
(Ms Hewitt) The Government Offices are obviously staffed
by officials from most Government Departments, but in particular
15. Will there be people particularly taken
on with environmental qualifications to do this monitoring, additional
in the Government Offices?
(Ms Hewitt) I am not sure that that is necessary,
but I will have a look at that. We have senior DTI officials within
the Government Office, but there are other departmental officials
there as well, and I certainly have confidence in my officials'
ability to monitor the full range of objectives to which the RDAs
have committed themselves. I will look at whether we need to strengthen
specifically the environmental expertise.
16. Excellent. And just one last thing, on this
general subject area. I understand, from the Green Alliance, that,
the DTI departmental review that is currently taking place, there
is no mention of sustainable development, environmental objectives
or resource productivity, in the terms of reference of the review,
or even in the mission statements. Is that right, or have they
got it wrong, or have I got it wrong?
(Ms Hewitt) This is not a formal process, where the
Government is reviewing policy. What I put in place when I became
Secretary of State was a review of what the Department is doing
and how we do it, because I believe we can have a much clearer
focus and a much more effective way of working. I am very clear
that the central purpose and focus of the DTI is productivity
and closing the productivity gap that exists between ourselves
and our competitors. I am also very clear
17. But do we not have to include resource productivity
in that though?
(Ms Hewitt) Of course; and what I was just about to
say was, I am very clear that productivity is not just about labour
productivity and capital productivity, it is equally about resource
productivity. And although I do not want to pre-empt the reorganisation,
the changes that we will be making within the Department, I would
like to assure you that you will see a much greater emphasis in
the Department on innovation and technology, including, in particular,
the development and application of environmental technologies.
18. Is there any possibility at this late stage
of the terms of reference being perhaps slightly reconsidered
to include environmental sustainability and resource productivity
(Ms Hewitt) The Department is committed, I am committed,
to sustainable development. We have an excellent sustainable development
strategy in place, which is work in progress, which we are continuing
to develop. This is not a review that has terms of reference in
a constraining sense.
19. It is where the balance is, is it not?
(Ms Hewitt) We had an opening statement of the sorts
of things we were looking at. We are not, in any sense, leaving
out issues to do with resource productivity, they are very, very
clear, in my agenda and in the review team's agenda, and you will
see that reflected in the outcome of the review.
Joan Walley: I would have preferred it to have
been in there, but I hear what you say on that. Thank you.