Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Q1.  What progress has been made in implementing the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, particularly in respect of the mapping exercise, and when will the Act be fully implemented?

  The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 ("the Act") created a new statutory right of access to open country and registered common land and modernised the rights of way system. It also gave greater protection to Sites of Special Scientific Interest, providing better management arrangements for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and strengthening wildlife enforcement legislation. The Act received Royal Assent on 30 November 2000. Certain provisions of the Act, in relation to England only, were brought into force under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (Commencement No 1) Order 2001 on 30 January 2001 and 1 April 2001.

  The Countryside Agency is charged with preparing maps showing open country and registered common land. The maps are being rolled out on a region-by-region basis and draft maps for consultation were issued for part of the south-east and the lower north west in November 2001. The Agency plans to issue the last draft map in September 2003, and the final provisional map in March 2004. The Agency will in turn issue conclusive maps for each area once the Planning Inspectorate has determined any appeals arising from the provisional maps. We expect the final conclusive map to be issued in sufficient time to implement the right of access in England by the target of end 2005, which the Government has set itself.

  We are currently considering whether to introduce access to some open country, on a region-by-region basis, before the target date of 2005. We believe that the potential advantages to walkers of bringing the right of access into force on a regional basis are persuasive. However, we do need to be sure we have thought through some practical issues, including the management of access and systems to ensure that members of the public are properly informed of their rights and responsibilities. We are looking very carefully at this with officials in the Countryside Agency and Ministers will make an announcement when they have reached a decision.

  The Department proposes to lay regulations shortly before Parliament on provisional and conclusive maps, and on appeals against provisional maps. These regulations will come into force by the end of July 2002. We also propose in July 2002 to lay regulations on the establishment of local access forums, which will have a central role in advising on the management of the new right of access.

  We have recently consulted on draft guidance to local highway authorities on their new duty to prepare rights of way improvement plans. The purpose of these plans is to encourage local authorities to take a strategic view of their rights of way network. They should aim to improve the network in order to (i) better meet the needs of users (particularly those that don't benefit from the right of open access, such as equestrians and cyclists)—and (ii) better reflect modern patterns of demand and land use. The Department is currently revising the guidance with a view to commencing the provisions and issuing final guidance in September 2002.

  The remaining rights of way provisions in Part II of the Act require detailed secondary legislation. We intend to lay a number of regulations to enable implementation in the period 2002- 2004. Public consultation exercises are currently underway on proposals to implement the provisions enabling members of the public to enforce highway authorities' duty to remove obstructions on rights of way and, provisions to enable highway authorities to close or divert rights of way on the grounds of crime prevention or pupil and teacher safety.

Q2.  How many farmers have used the Planning Advice Consultancy scheme; what targets were set for the scheme; what has been its impact?

  From its launch in September 2001 to the end of June 2002, DEFRA has authorised 1,333 cases of advice (each representing one day's consultancy advice) under the Planning Advice Consultancy scheme, at a projected cost of 1,080. Some farmers have delayed taking up the offer, and this is reflected in the impact to-date of 540 cases delivered and claimed at a cost of 414,000. The scheme is demand-led and the target is to provide a free planning feasibility study for all farmers wishing to pursue viable diversification projects under the Rural Enterprise Scheme. This should provide them with an informed professional view on the optimum presentation of their planning application and the issues which will need to be addressed, or save nugatory effort in those cases where the project stands no chance of securing planning consent.

Q3.  What is the additional cost incurred by DEFRA as a result of the recent increase in employers' National Insurance contributions?

  The estimated cost of the increase to employers' National Insurance rates ( which will apply from April 2003) for DEFRA including all its Executive Agencies, will be around 2.5 million.

Q4.  Which programmes were cut in order to fund the settlement of staff pay?

  HM Treasury gave the department approval to vire 9 million from its Net Resource/Programme plans into Administration budgets to cover the additional cost of the pay award to former MAFF employees to reduce the pay differential with respect to former DETR staff.

  Budgets are monitored with respect to living within our overall Departmental Expenditure Limits and, within that, the separate limits on capital and administration expenditure. It is normal for some re-allocation to take place between budgets as unexpected pressures or reductions in requirements emerge during the course of the year. No programmes were therefore cut as a result of the decision to vire funding from programme to administration expenditure.

Q5.  Which towns of more than 15,000 population in England and Wales do not now benefit from secondary treatment for sewage discharges; and when will the discharges of all such towns receive such treatment?


Expected date for secondary treatment

Dover and Folkstone

31 October 2002


31 October 2002

East Hastings and Bexhill

31 December 2002

Prestatyn (Wales)

31 December 2003


31 December 2004


31 December 2005


31 December 2005


30 June 2007


  The main reason for delays to these schemes was the revocation of Less Sensitive Areas in 1998 and 2000. This decision raised the standard of treatment (from at least primary to secondary) for these discharges. Since 1998 then, the construction of secondary treatment facilities and, where necessary, resolution of planning and/or discharge consent issues have been progressed as quickly as possible.

Q6.  Clarification of the current position in respect of the condition of nationally important wildlife sites—when the PSA target was set 60 per cent were in favourable condition, and now (according to Mr Bender) the figure is 56.5 per cent?

  Common monitoring standards were agreed between the statutory conservation agencies and published by JNCC in 1998. In line with these, the condition of sites is assessed at least once every six years. The first cycle of assessments is currently underway. As this programme has progressed, an increasing proportion of SSSI has been assessed under these standards for the first time. The PSA target baseline of 60 per cent was based on the information available when 55 per cent of the SSSI area had been assessed. By March 2002, 76 per cent of the SSSI area in England had been assessed revealing a more accurate overall figure of 56.5 per cent currently meeting the target.

  This implies a reduction in SSSI quality. In fact, monitoring shows we are achieving modest improvement to sites. But this is outweighed by the fact that a lower proportion of sites recently assessed is in favourable or recovering condition.

  55 per cent of the total SSSI area had been assessed by end March 2000. Of this area, 58.8 per cent was in favourable condition. A lesser proportion of the additional areas assessed in subsequent years has been found to be in favourable condition and this has brought down the overall figure. In the last year, to end March 2002, a further 10 per cent of the total area was assessed but only 49 per cent of this was in favourable condition.

  The area of SSSI that had been assessed by March 2001 has shown a slight improvement of 0.2 per cent but this is obscured by the fact that the overall headline figure increasingly reflects the condition of the newly assessed areas.

Q7.  What is the Department's IT strategy—and can the Committee have a copy of it?

  DEFRA's current IT Strategy consists of:

    (1)  the DEFRA e-Business strategy, published in October 2001. A copy of this is attached [not printed];

    (2)  IT technical strategies. Copies of these can be provided if the committee wishes to see them.

  Development of the strategy is overseen by the e-Business Sub Committee of the Management Board which has been in existence for some two years. This is a committee chaired by the business, not technical side of the Department, and which includes the main business users of IT in DEFRA (precisely because IT should be driven by the business).

  In addition, individual IT programmes and projects are managed using recognised project management tools. These include a requirement that there is a clear statement at the beginning of each project or programme of the business objectives the project or programme is intended to meet. DEFRA makes extensive use of Office of Government Commerce `Gateway Reviews' to quality assure its IT programmes and projects (including alignment between business objectives and the IT).

  DEFRA's IT strategy is being further developed so that there is a single document which

    (1)  describes how IT will help to deliver DEFRA's corporate business objectives, incorporating the existing e-Business strategy which covers this in part;

    (2)  incorporates the technical strategies; and

    (3)  explains IT governance arrangements in the Department, IT investment policies following the 2002 Spending Review, and IT procurement strategies before and after the planned IT outsource.

  A couple of other points from the evidence session need clarification:

    Q 42—The design and implementation of the single IT system rolled out following the creation of DEFRA, was undertaken by a joint project team of in-house staff and Fujitsu resources.

    Q 44—Specific figures on number of staff working internally as service providers are approximately 330 internal IT staff in ITD, and at least that number in Directorates. The total for the department therefore is nearer 700.

Q8.   What financial management changes have been made since the C&AG's comments on the accounts of the former MAFF?

    —  C&AG's report on the 2000-01 accounts was prepared in February and the NAO's detailed management letter was received in March 2002. Therefore there were limits to the changes that could be put in place for 2001-02.

    —  For the 2001-02 accounts more emphasis has been put on strengthening the procedures for compilation and analytical review of the final accounts rather than on in-year controls. The year end is being run on formal project management lines and partly as a result of this approach there is greater clarity about the roles and responsibilities of key players. Procedures are also in place for reviewing major issues and for formal quality assurance of the figures before they are presented for audit.

    —  There can be no guarantee that these improvements will result in DEFRA securing an unqualified audit opinion. Handling of the machinery of government changes leading to the creation of DEFRA and the launch of RPA was not easy; and there are continuing uncertainties as to whether we have sufficient evidence to support figures reported on FMD. Additional resource has been put into these areas but we await NAO feedback to assess whether they are content with what has been done.

    —  In parallel with work on the 2001-02 accounts, work has been underway to improve in-year management of DEFRA budgets for 2002-03. A newly appointed Deputy Financial Officer, an accountant with experience in Government and the private sector has been brought into oversee these initiatives. In addition Management Board members now act as first-line budget holders overseeing financial performance within their commands. This reinforcement of the Management Board's role in the area of financial management has been underpinned by improvements in the reporting of DEFRA's corporate financial position.

  A longer term strategy aimed at securing sustainable and longer-term financial management improvements has also been developed. This is being delivered through a wide ranging programme of change aimed at strengthening business planning, budgetary control and external reporting. Whilst the programme will only be completed within 2-3 years it is expected that there will be a steady stream of improvements starting in 2002-03.

Q9.  Why has the expected spending on Executive Agencies risen so sharply between 2000-01 and 2001-02 ?

  This represents the creation of the Rural Payments Agency, a new organisation created to rationalise payments made under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in the UK. It subsumed much of the work previously undertaken by the Intervention Board.

Q10.  For what reasons is there such a sudden increase in financial provision for Water Services and Support for Countryside and Wildlife between 2001-02 and 2002-03 ?

  Additional funding has been provided through the Capital Modernisation Fund for the Water Grid Public Private Partnership (PPP). The Countryside and Wildlife budget now includes Rural Development, Rural Transport and reflects a rising baseline agreed as part of the Spending Review 2000 to fund a number of new initiatives (eg biodiversity, recreation opportunities and the National Parks).

Q11.   Why will capital expenditure on environmental protection rise from 79 million in 1998/99 to 157 million by 2003-04 (Table 5.3 p38)?

  These figures need to be revised and will be adjusted when new tables are produced in the Autumn. Capital expenditure has risen from 115 million in 1999-2000 to planned investment of 275 million in 2003/04. This reflects increased investment through the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme, as well as additional funding for community heating schemes and for waste management.

Q12.  Will the Department publish an electronic corrigendum / update on its website to supplement the figures given in Chapter 5 of the Report?

  These tables are currently under revision. Replacement tables will be made available in the Autumn. Meanwhile, an erratum message is being added to the web site to advise of the errors in the existing tables. Correction notices will be issued free of charge to all those who received copies of the Report.

Q.13.  Why has it not been possible to achieve the FC's PSA target in respect of sales of timber-cutting rights? What steps have been taken to make progress in relation to this matter?

  The Forestry Commission has held detailed discussions, involving Treasury and Counsel, as to whether it would be possible to conduct such sales. The Working Group which investigated this matter concluded that:

    —  The Forestry Commissioners do not have the powers to dispose of their interest in the public forest estate is this way. Counsel's opinion is that the sale of cutting rights would be ultra-vires the Forestry Act 1967.

    —  Selling cutting rights would in any event be unlikely to deliver value for money.

    —  The Forestry Commission is currently seeking Counsel's opinion as to the changes it would be possible to make to the Forestry Act to deal with this and other issues.

Q.14.  Why was it not possible for the FC to find a private partner to participate in refurbishing holiday cabin sites? What efforts have been made to find a suitable partner?

  The difficulty here lies, again, in the wording of the Forestry Act 1967, which does not empower the Forestry Commissioners to enter into the kind of joint ventures which would be of interest to potential partners. The Forestry Commission is pursuing the matter with Partnerships UK to see whether a solution can be found. In the meantime, the Forestry Commission received 10 million from the Capital Modernisation Fund to refurbish its cabin sites in England. For the longer term, the Forestry Commissioners are exploring the possibility of amending the Forestry Act to ensure that it does not prevent them from delivering the full range of social, economic and environmental benefits which forests can provide.


Q.15.  When will the review of administrative arrangements surrounding forestry be completed?

  The Interdepartmental group which conducted the review submitted its report on 20 June. Ministers are currently considering the group's recommendations.

Q16.  What was the total cost of publishing the Departmental Annual Report? What has been recouped through sales?

  The costs for the Departmental Report 2002 were as follows:



Design, layout and cover


Production of version for internet





(21,017 including VAT)


  DEFRA itself does not pay for the printing of the report. This is paid for by the Stationery Office who then recoup their own costs through sales.

Q17.  What progress has been made on the GIS programme?

  The DEFRA Management Board (through its e-business sub-committee) has set up a programme to establish a DEFRA Geographical Information (GI) Strategy. The first phase of this work is underway; with the drawing up a Strategy and action plan for its implementation. This work is due to be signed off by the project board responsible in September. The Rural Development Service of DEFRA is leading this activity.

  GI activity has now been reviewed across the wider DEFRA family and in the context of development elsewhere in the UK and in Europe. The work has confirmed the increasing use of GI being made by DEFRA. We are well placed to benefit further from the experience and knowledge we already have from leading GI development once we have a Strategy established.

  The implementation of a GI Strategy will be largely dependent on the outcome of SR2002.


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