Examination of Witnesses (Questions 196-199)|
MP, MR ROBIN
16 JULY 2008
Q196 Chairman: Good afternoon, ladies
and gentlemen, to this last session of oral evidence in the Committee's
inquiry into the potential of England's rural economy. Before
I formally welcome our witnesses can I also welcome to our proceedings
representatives of the South Lakeland District Council who I know
are here today. Having had the pleasure of meeting them earlier
on already, we have a willing set of further volunteers to supply
the Committee with excellent evidence from the other side of the
Pennines from that which the Committee visited when we went to
North Yorkshire. Can I formally welcome Jonathan Shaw, the Under-Secretary
of State for Marine, Landscape and Rural Affairs, and he is supported
by Mr Robin Mortimer, the Director of Rural Land Use and Adaptation
(sounds jolly interestingand if you do rural land use my
allotment beckons, so I will see you there on Sunday!), and Mr
Ron Scrutton, the Head of Rural Policy in the Department. Gentlemen,
you are very welcome. Thank you for the written evidence and thank
you for agreeing to come and give us oral evidence. When we heard
from the Centre for Rural Economy, Minister, they said (and I
quote): "Defra needs to become a more effective champion
of rural affairs; improve rural proofing in Whitehall and the
regions; and more effectively promote the idea of rural economies
as sources of economic dynamism in their own right." Do you
think in the time that you have been in post, Minister, you have
achieved that objective? If so, how?
Jonathan Shaw: Would any Minister
get to the Promised Land, as you have sort of described it, is
something that we have to continue to work hard for, but I think
that within the year that I have been in post that gives you some
time to reflect on the Government's policy and areas within which
we are ensuring that, whether it is rural proofing or mainstreaming
or whatever we want to call it, the Government is delivering on
its PSA targets within sparsely populated areas to ensure that
both the economy and people's wellbeing is improved, and I think
that we are making good progress. Indeed, around 30% of England's
businesses are within rural areas. Is there more that we can do?
Absolutely, but it is not just for government; it is for government,
it is for regional organisations, such as the RDA, and indeed
local authorities and local organisations.
Q197 Chairman: It is fair to say,
though, that you have already had to change one PSA which was
unmeasurablethe one that looked at rural productivityto
the one that deals with strong rural communities. So there have
been some quite wholesale changes in the way that you deal with
your priorities in this area.
Jonathan Shaw: That is right.
It is not just changes to the PSA in relation to the Department
where I am the Minister. What we did have were PSAs which were
department-specific; there were only, perhaps, a couple that actually
joined departments together. Previously, it was our department
and the Department for Transport that worked on climate change,
for example, but the PSAs are complemented now by a number of
Departmental Strategic Objectives, the difference being, as I
am sure you are aware, that PSAs go right across government so
all departments have a responsibility for improving on climate
change, etcnone of them work in isolationbut the
Departmental Strategic Objectives, generally, are departmental
rather than cross-government. Ours is different because it does
go outside of the department and it ensures that the Government
is delivering to rural communities those PSA targets, which are
the priorities of the Government for all of our citizens, whether
they are urban, suburban or rural.
Chairman: You have emphasised in your
two answers the importance which you attach to these matters.
Could you, for the record, tell me how many people in DEFRA are
currently involved in undertaking your rural policy work?
Jonathan Shaw: I will let my colleague
answer on the specifics, but it is reasonable for me to say let
us look at the politics of this. At the last election
Q198 Chairman: I would rather just
have an answer to how many people there were.
Jonathan Shaw: I think it is an
important context in which to put the answer, Chairman. At the
last election all political parties, certainly the Labour Party
and the Conservative Party, said that they would reduce the number
of civil servants (I can see those pictures of Michael Howard
walking through those cardboard cut-outs of bowler hats) because
both of us wanted to ensure the delivery and the priority of public
services. However, it is not just measuring in rural; if we are
mainstreaming, there are people in the Housing Corporation working
on rural issues; there are people who work on the RDPE programme,
there are people in animal health and there are people in CLG.
So in just the same way as the rural matter is not just the issue
for Defra, dealing with rural matters cuts across all government
departments. I am happy for my colleague to answer the specific,
but that is the general context, I think, within which you should
make a judgment.
Q199 Chairman: Okay. Now we have
walked through the sunny uplands of Britain's political past,
Mr Mortimer is going to tell us the answer to my question.
Jonathan Shaw: It is the context,
Mr Mortimer: Just echoing what
the Minister said, really, it depends what you are asking exactly.
In terms of how many people across Defra work on issues relating
to rural affairsa very large number.