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

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 220-239)



  220. Dr Griffiths said that we are ahead of the game, which is a phrase that always fills me with foreboding when it comes to matters European because we go in and say we are ahead of the game and we usually end up with a disaster through over-confidence and complacency. If we are ahead of the game why is the British estuary not among the 15 pilot estuaries so we can learn some lessons?
  (Dr Skinner) For the reasons I gave earlier, we made the judgment that we would use our resources for what we thought was the best thing to do to make sure that the Directive was best for the United Kingdom in terms of the standards. I also said that is not excluding the fact that we would want to do more work on learning the way that the Directive is going to work. I think the emphasis is going to be on the institutional arrangements and how they fit together rather than on estuarial studies on a technical nature on which we can learn from others. The whole concept of the CIS studies is that they are shared resources, you do not have to do them all in your own place. That is a judgment we made.
  (Baroness Young) We are doing pilots on rivers and estuaries that are aimed at specific issues that we think we need more information about. The current study on rivers on the economic aspects is an example of that. It is better to target the work we are doing towards the things where we were least confident that we knew what we were talking about, rather than doing a wholesale pilot like the European ones, where we take all of the aspects and do them all. Almost certainly in the near future we will be putting forward proposals for a pilot which would take account of these public engagement issues. If there are other issues at that stage we feel we do not quite understand we would probably want to build those in at the same time.

  221. It is difficult to combine the two. While you are exuding complacency to us, Water UK is pretty critical of you. It says that it would like to know whether DEFRA and the Agency believe they have the necessary resources to oversee the implementation of the largest, the most expensive piece of water legislation in history. The Institution of Water and Environmental Managers are concerned whether the Agency will be adequately resourced by government funds for the early identification of basins and districts and whatever will result in the increase of charges to abstractors, et cetera. Do you accept you are being slow to commit resources to transposition and implementation of the Water Framework Directive? If you do, why?
  (Baroness Young) First of all, if I can say we are not complacent. We are a bit like swans, we may look very serene on the surface but we are paddling like hell underneath the water. There is an immense amount of work and investment going into this. We have to distinguish what is for DEFRA to do, including the transposition issue, and what is for the Agency to do. We always have limited resources. We have had to choose what we thought the best priorities were and discuss them with DEFRA and put our limited cash in that direction. We are building up the amount of resources committed to this in line with the amount of funds that DEFRA is aiming to give us. We do believe that we will hit the deadlines in the early stages of the programme. What happens beyond that will depend very much on the settlement we get in the Spending Review and also the availability of money from a variety of other public purses. It will be resource driven, this will impact on the quality of work brought forward.

  222. Their concerns that deadlines will not be met are not justified but if they are not met it is DEFRA's fault anyway.
  (Baroness Young) The biggest issue for us is not whether the deadlines are met but whether we get through the work and are moving forward the environmental objectives. That is something that we still are dependent on seeing our Spending Review 2002 outcome on. We have not had our settlement, we do not know what it is going to look like, a lot of what we are going to be able to do over the next two years will depend on that.

Mr Jack

  223. Am I right in saying as the nominated competent authority you currently do not have a budget you can put a number to do the work you are currently paddling desperately to do?
  (Baroness Young) We have a budget. The level of that budget for 2003-04 onwards is still dependent on the Spending Review. That is the budget just for us, we then have to look at all of the other costs to the Directive, which are costs in other public programmes, costs in the work that needs to happen beyond the characterisation.

  224. Putting that aside for the moment, in paragraph 41 of your evidence where you say, "As competent authority . . ." you have a comprehensive and awe inspiring list of things that you are supposed to do. How much is it going to cost you to do all of those things?
  (Dr Skinner) As of today we are not the competent authority, we are advising DEFRA.

  225. It says in paragraph 41 "As competent authority the Agency will be . . ." Do you have a doubt as to whether you will be appointed.
  (Dr Skinner) No, the document says that the government intends to make us the competent authority, although it will not take effect until they make the regulation, which is probably some months, if not more, away. We have been planning on the basis that we will be the competent authority and those statements are made about the duties which we will have to carry out.

  226. You have to have negotiations with your paymaster.
  (Dr Skinner) We do not have the resources now to do all of the things in paragraph 41.

  227. How much have you asked for?
  (Dr Skinner) We have asked for money in the next two year round which doubles the figure we currently have.

  228. What is it?
  (Dr Skinner) 4.5 million

  229. Are you saying that to do paragraph 41 it costs 4.5 million?
  (Dr Skinner) No, the activities in paragraph 41 go beyond the next two years.

  230. What I am aiming at, I am struggling to see who is in charge, who is the person responsible at the moment within the Environment Agency for delivering the Water Framework Directive or who do you think will be in charge? Who is Mr or Mrs or Ms Water Framework Directive?
  (Baroness Young) It is Baroness Water Framework Directive, also with my Board. The Environment Agency will have statutory responsibility for the implementation of the Water Framework Directive. We are a government agency with a responsibility to ministers. There are some elements of the policy and funding that will be the responsibility of DEFRA.

  231. If it is the agency who in organisational terms is carrying out the programme? There must be somebody who this is devolved to to be pulling it all together.
  (Baroness Young) I am responsible to my Board. The Director of Environmental Protection reports to me, he has Dr Skinner working for him as Head of Environmental Quality and the Project Manager is Dr Griffiths.

  232. If I came to your office, Dr Griffiths, and said, show me the outline plan, can you pluck off the shelf a document that shows me a nice critical path, milestones, timetable all worked out?
  (Dr Griffiths) I would be pleased to do that.

  233. That is all done. It is costed out year by year as to what you think is going to be estimated?
  (Dr Griffiths) We have estimated.

  234. Are you confident of getting the resources?
  (Baroness Young) It will depend on the negotiations with DEFRA on the Spending Review.

  235. One of our witnesses last week said you were struggling a bit for cash, he told us about a thing called BRITE, Better Regulation in the Environment. It seemed to be that the Treasury were leaning on you because they thought you were a tad too expensive. Do you have the money or not? What is BRITE about?
  (Baroness Young) I think BRITE is a bit of a red herring. BRITE was not about saving money, it did not save any money. BRITE is about restructuring the way we run our environmental protection services to make them more efficient and consistent and to really respond to some of the comments and suggestions that have been made by our stakeholders as part of our five yearly review. It is not intended to save money, it is intended to rebrigade our staff and resources in a different way and particularly to provide more ability to quality control the work we do, to make sure that it is nationally consistent and to put more money at the frontline where it really counts. It is not a money saving proposition at all, it is about better regulation, improving environment and is about how we do the job better.

  236. Will it as an exercise enable resources or is it a requirement to enable resources to be freed up from other areas to help fund the work we have just been talking about?
  (Baroness Young) The Water Framework Directive is a new duty. We need to negotiate with DEFRA about getting funding for these additional duties and we are in that negotiation at the moment.

  237. I am going to suggest to the Chairman that it might be useful for the Committee to have a note from you laying out the staffing requirements and the budgetary requirements, because when we come to talk to ministers we want to be assured you are properly funded to do all of the tasks that paragraph 41 of your evidence indicates that you are required to undertake, because I have a bit of a nervousness about that.
  (Baroness Young) For the moment we are spending 2.5 million. We have estimated that we need 4.5 million in 2003-04, 4.5 million in 2004-05 and 6 million in 2005-06. In the range of duties in paragraph 41 some of them really only kick in beyond that. Our project plan will be able to give you a feel for that.

  238. Is that written into your baseline at some point in the past or does that represent net expenditure for the Agency?
  (Baroness Young) That is additional.

  239. Those are the actual costs and they are all additional. If government is going to do the job properly it has to find that money for you, and I presume for everybody else following their own statutory responsibility they are going to chip in their tuppence worth to this exercise.
  (Baroness Young) We should make the point, much of the delivery of the Framework Directive is about bringing together existing activities that many organisations are already involved in. Quite a lot of the work we are already doing is already funded from our baseline or funded from charges or from water company charges or from the Common Agricultural Policy subsidy, or wherever the money comes from, will all be part of the kitty for the implementation of the Framework Directive.

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