Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

QUESTIONS

1.  What are the advantages and disadvantages of the new structure for Government Departments in terms of delivery of environmental and sustainable development policy and objectives?

  It is more a question of differences than advantages and disadvantages. The Government is committed to addressing environmental, social and economic objectives together in all policy and decision making areas. The previous structure offered the opportunity for synergy between environmental policies and policy areas such as transport and regeneration. The new structure offers a similar opportunity for environmental/food and farming/rural affairs synergy—building on close MAFF/DETR collaboration on the pre-Election White Paper Our countryside: the future. A fair deal for rural England.

  A good case can be made for both configurations. Bur the real issue is the importance of integration, of making the right connections between symptoms and causes of a problem and between policies and Departments to find solutions. DEFRA and DTLR have agreed a concordat on liaison arrangements on issues of common concern—but linkages also need to be made on issues not covered by the concordat and between DEFRA and other Departments wherever necessary to ensure joined-up government.

2.  Given the opportunities for change presented by the reorganisation of the Government departments after the election in June, why was it considered appropriate to locate the Sustainable Development Unit within DEFRA rather than in the Cabinet Office, where units responsible for other cross-cutting issues, such as the Social Exclusion Unit, are located? In practice, does this decision make it more or less difficult for the Sustainable Development Unit and DEFRA to engender cross-government commitment to sustainable development? Please set out the aims and objectives of the SDU?

  The SDU functioned well in DETR under the Minister for Sustainable Development and Chair of the Green Ministers' Committee, Michael Meacher. Michael Meacher has retained those responsibilities in DEFRA (with the Green Ministers' Committee becoming ENV(G), a sub-committee of ENV), and I see no reason to re-locate the SDU to another Department.

  The commitment to sustainable development is a Government-wide commitment and the Sustainable Development Unit has a cross-government mandate. The Unit's location doesn't affect that situation.

  The aim and objectives of the SDU are:

  To work with others to promote sustainable development within DEFRA, across Government and more widely.

  Objectives:

    —  to increase understanding and acceptance of sustainable development;

    —  to provide a policy framework within which sustainable development can be achieved in the UK; and

    —  to identify, refine and bring to bear the tools necessary to deliver sustainable development.

3.  DEFRA ran a consultation on the department's aims and objectives. To what extent do you expect the finally agreed aims and objectives relating to sustainable development to be similar to those established by DETR in the last Parliament? What is the timetable for the consideration of responses to the consultation and when do you expect a final agreement on aims and objectives?

  DEFRA's aim and objectives in relation to those areas of responsibility transferred from DETR will inevitably be similar to those established by DETR, but DEFRA is a new Department with a new agenda and its aim and objectives reflect the important synergies between environmental, rural, food and related issues.

  DEFRA's aim and objectives were announced on 14 November. They are set out at Annex A. My Ministerial team's Vision for DEFRA is at Annex B. A summary of responses to the consultation, including an indication of how these were taken on board, is available on the DEFRA website (and is at Annex C).

4.  The consultation document puts much emphasis on rural, agricultural and farming policies and environmental priorities. Does this reflect a fundamental shift in Government policies, away from urban congestion, urban regeneration and industrial issues and a means of delivering a "green revolution", or is it an inevitable consequence of unifying the environmental parts of DETR with MAFF?

  Environmental, rural, food and related issues have become more complex and are closely inter-related. DEFRA was formed so that the Government can handle these issues more effectively within one department. But this in no way diminishes the importance of the other issues identified in the question, on which DEFRA will continue to work closely with other relevant departments.

5.  The consultation document identifies "the promotion of sustainable development across Government" as a key issue for DEFRA. How does the department intend to address this task. Please provide practical examples of DEFRA's work with other Government departments in this regard.

  We will promote sustainable development across Government and society, and internationally by:

    —  seeking to ensure that policies and decisions across government address economic, social and environmental impacts and achieve sustainable outcomes;

    —  acting as an advocate for the underlying principles of sustainable development—such as transparency, information, participation and access to justice and using scientific knowledge—and highlighting the linkages between these and other Government priorities, particularly the modernising government agenda;

    —  supporting ENV(G), the Cabinet Sub-committee of Green Ministers whose remit is to look at the impacts of a wide range of government policies on sustainable development as well as continuing to improve the performance of the government estate;

    —  monitoring and reporting on progress by the country as a whole, particularly through the 15 Headline Indicators of sustainable development; and

    —  leading on sustainable development policy internationally, particularly in relation to the EU Sustainable Development Strategy and the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) to be held in Johannesburg in September 2002.

  Practical examples:

    —  DEFRA has worked closely with the Treasury to ensure that sustainable development issues are considered and reflected in Departmental bids for the 2002 Spending Review. Specific guidance on sustainable development has been issued for the first time and each Department has been asked to produce a sustainable development report.

    —  DEFRA is working with DTLR, DoH and CMPS to develop an integrated policy (sustainability) appraisal framework for use across Government;

    —  DEFRA is working with DTI and OGCbuying.solutions (the trading arm of HMT) to set up a high level, cross-government sustainable procurement group, which I announced on 24 October. This group will look at what can be done within the framework of EC public procurement directives better to support sustainable development through Government procurement.

6.  What plans does DEFRA have to develop its own departmental sustainable development strategy? What progress has been made to date? Will the strategy contain quantifiable targets and deadlines?

  I announced that DEFRA would have its own Departmental Sustainable Development Strategy on 11 July.

  The Departmental strategy—which will of course take as its starting point the Government's 1999 Strategy for sustainable development for the UK—will be an enduring document which identifies the contribution that DEFRA can make to the achievement of a better quality of life.

  It will provide an overarching framework setting out how all DEFRA policies will be developed in order to meet economic, social and environmental objectives at the same time. It will also focus on some priority policy areas which pose the greatest challenge or can make the greatest contribution to the achievement of sustainable development.

  The strategy will also act as a tool to raise awareness of sustainable development since it is being developed in consultation with staff and stakeholders.

  Green Alliance held a stakeholder seminar in October to brainstorm ideas on some priority cross cutting areas which should be addressed by the strategy, and three overarching themes emerged from discussions; localism, social inclusion/environmental justice and innovation. These themes will be tackled in three further seminars in December. In order to involve a wider group of stakeholders, we have also set up an online discussion forum for stakeholders, launched by Michael Meacher on 21 November, on the Government's sustainable development website. DEFRA staff will be able to participate in an internal online discussion forum to be launched by Alun Michael on 30 November. The forum will go live from that date and will run until 21 December.

  The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) have been contracted to undertake some focus groups to gain some public perspectives on which sustainable development issues DEFRA should be focusing on. These will be held throughout late November and early December.

  The outcomes from each of the consultation processes will be fed into development of the strategy in early January. We are looking to publish the strategy in March 2002.

7.  What research, or other work, has DEFRA commissioned on the development of resource productivity indicators? When do you expect this work to be completed? How does it relate to the current Performance and Innovation Unit Review of Resource Productivity?

  DEFRA commissioned research by the Wuppertal Institute to produce UK estimates for Total Material Resource Flows. The report of this project will be published shortly and reference was made to this work in the PIU report "Resource productivity: making more with less". DEFRA will be working together with ONS and DTI to develop a series of simple measures of resource productivity at the national level as recommended in the PIU report.

8.  As a result of the 2000 Spending Review, DETR adopted a series of objectives and performance measures as part of its Public Service Agreement. The Secretary of State for Environment, Transport and the Regions was identified as the person responsible for ensuring delivery. What is the status of these PSA objectives and performance targets now that DETR no longer exists?

    (a)  Has DEFRA assumed responsibility for some or all of these PSA objectives and performance measures? Who is responsible for delivery of DETR's PSA objectives and performance measures which have not been absorbed by DEFRA?

    (b)  Has such a division of PSA targets been formerly agreed between those responsible?

    (c)  What other PSA targets is DEFRA working towards?

  DEFRA's PSA targets are set out below. Targets 1 to 4, 6 and 14 have been "transferred" from DETR. DETR's targets not absorbed by DEFRA are the responsibility of DTLR.

PSA Target

  1.  Improve air quality by meeting our National Air Quality Strategy targets for carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, particles, sulphur dioxide, benzene and 1-3 butadiene.

  2.  Improve the environment and the sustainable use of natural resources, including by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5 per cent from 1990 levels and moving towards a 20 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2010. Joint target with DTI.

  3.  Enable 17 per cent of household waste to be recycled or composted by 2004.

  4.  Reduce fuel poverty among vulnerable households by improving the energy efficiency of 600,000 homes between 2001 and 2004.

  5.  Deliver the environmental and economic benefits envisaged in the England Rural Development Plan by 2004 including an increase in the area farmed organically and development of the rural economy under the new Rural Enterprise Scheme.

  6.  Bring into favourable condition by 2010 95 per cent of all nationally important wildlife sites, compared to 60 per cent of sites currently estimated to be in such condition.

  7.  Care for our living heritage and preserve natural diversity by reversing the long term decline in the number of farmland birds by 2020, as measured annually against underlying trends.

  8.  Secure agreement by March 2004 to reforms which reduce the cost of the CAP to consumers and taxpayers.

  9.  Achieve the agriculture strategy, the modernisation of agriculture, and an increase in the competitiveness and consumer focus of the food chain as measured by the real food price index and sustainable competitiveness indicators to be developed by March 2001.

  10.  Achieve a reduction of 10 per cent in the unit cost of administering CAP payments by March 2004, and 95 per cent electronic service delivery capability for such payments by March 2004 (this is also the value for money target).

  11.  Reduce the annual incidence of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) to less than 650 cases by 2001 and by 2004 be on track for fewer than 30 cases by 2006. A 99 per cent reduction compared with 1997 when there were 4,312 cases.

  12.  Reduce the time taken to clear up cases of poor welfare in farmed animals by 5 per cent by March 2004.

  13.  Reduce UK fishing effort in those sectors of the fleet with most overcapacity to 20 per cent below the 1997 level by end 2001. A further target reduction for 2004 will be set following EU negotiations in 2001.

  14.  Open up public access to mountain, moor, heath and down and registered common land by the end of 2005.

9.  What were the key outcomes of the recent talks on climate change at Marrakesh?

  The climate change talks in Marrakesh successfully translated the political agreement reached in Bonn in July on the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol into detailed legal texts. We now have in place a global legal framework to implement the Kyoto Protocol. This includes a detailed compliance system which provides for tough consequences if a country fails to meet its obligations. As a result, the regime is likely to be the most powerful of any multilateral environmental agreement in the world. The deal also puts in place accounting and reporting requirements, and detailed rules for the operation of "Kyoto mechanisms", which allow developed countries to meet their commitments as cost-effectively as possible.

  The Marrakesh accords should give developed countries the certainty they need to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and thus bring about its entry into force. The UK, along with our EU partners, had already made a commitment to ratify in time to allow Kyoto to enter into force before the World Summit on Sustainable Development in September 2002.

10.  There is widespread agreement that the introduction of the New Energy Trading Agreement (NETA) has had a significant adverse effect on renewable generation and in particular Combined Heat and Power. Please set out how you liaised with DTI on this issue over the last two years in order to ensure a joined-up approach which took account of environmental objectives.

  A Special experts Group (SpEG) was set up in early 2000 to look at the issues smaller generators would encounter under NETA. DETR/DEFRA was represented on the Group as were other government departments, industry and smaller generators. SpEG put a working paper to Ofgem's Development and Implementation Steering Group in the lead up to NETA going live in March 2001. This working paper explored different consolidation (aggregation) options and the implications, benefits and disbenefits of the different options. In the course of normal discussion, my officials raised the issue of the need for NETA t properly address the affect on CHP and renewables generators to ensure that environmentally preferable power generation was not undermined.

  Since NETA was introduced, both my Ministers and officials have worked closely with DTI to ensure that the impact of NETA on CHP and renewables generators was properly understood and to encourage the review of its impact which Ofgem undertook this summer. The Minister for the Environment also made clear to the Chief Executive of Ofgem his concern about the impact NETA was having on such generators. Ofgem published the results of its review in August, following which my officials have worked closely with DTI to produce a Government response to the Ofgem Review which addresses the environmental consequences of NETA. This is currently under public consultation with responses required by 1 December. A cross Government-industry working group—the Consolidator Development Group—has been recently established specifically to examine the barriers to consolidation of smaller generators. My department is represented on this group.

27 November 2001


 
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