Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200-219)|
MP, MR ROBIN
16 JULY 2008
Q200 Chairman: I posed the question.
You can give me the factual answer in any way you want, but I
would just like to know, and perhaps you can tell me, if one takes
the people who deal with the policy issues (let us be specific)
how many of those are there?
Mr Mortimer: Working directly
in my team there are 17 posts in the rural policy division, but
we organise ourselves not just in divisions we organise on programmes,
and in terms of the rural programme
Q201 Chairman: If we go back to before
the Defra change programmes started, how many were there?
Mr Mortimer: If I can just finish
the point, in terms of the rural programme, which draws in people
from a large number of other areas of the department, around 30
work directly on the rural programme.
Q202 Chairman: So 17 and in total
30. Wind back to before the run-down in numbers, which the Minister
alluded to: how many was it?
Jonathan Shaw: Chairman, through
this number-crunching exercise you will get to a lower figure
than what was. That is why I put the political context. The issue
is, surely, about deliverability of services. People in rural
areas are worried about the bus, not civil servants.
Q203 Chairman: You have put the context
to us. I am just trying to get a measure of the resource that
is available at the centre for the department in government who
have responsibility for this area. I do not mind you putting it
into contextthat is probably very helpfulbut just
for the record could we not have an answer three years ago to
the question that Mr Mortimer has helpfully answered? Do you know
how many people there were three years ago before the change programme
Mr Mortimer: It is genuinely difficult
to answerI am not trying to prevaricatebut in the
restructuring we moved people out from what was the Rural Policy
Directorate. The Rural Policy Directorate included people who
were not working on rural policy. So I think it would not be a
like-for-like comparison to give you the number for the Rural
Policy Directorate versus now.
Chairman: Now you have excited my colleagues,
who all want to come in with supplementaries on this.
Q204 Mr Rogerson: I certainly accept
what you are saying that other departments have a responsibility
for delivering on this, and that is reassuring in many ways because
that is what we want to hear. However, we are able to call you
in front of us and, I suppose, what we need to know is how you
are co-ordinating those efforts as a department. There always
used to be this system, and I am not sure there still is, of Green
Ministers in all the other departments responsible for delivering
on that. Should there be Rural Ministers; people who have specific
responsibilityministerial responsibilityfor ensuring
that their departments are delivering across all areas in terms
of this? Are there regular meetings together of civil servants
from all the other departments with this small, very focused team?
Finally, to hit on what the Chairman was saying, the number may
have gone down, as you rightly say, but should we talk in percentage
terms? So has the percentage of civil servants focusing on rural
issues before changed, or has that number fallen right the way
across the board?
Jonathan Shaw: I will try, but
that is seven questions.
Q205 Chairman: Very good value for
Jonathan Shaw: Absolutelyvery
efficient. In terms of are there discussions between Ministersabsolutelyand
obviously I attend a number of Cabinet sub-committees. Part of
my responsibility there will be to ensure that when policy is
being developed they are taking account of sparsity (therefore,
rural areas), and we develop policy together. For example, with
rural housing, we will develop that with the CLG. It is not just
a case of us going out to police departments; departments come
to us as well because they want to see the development of policy.
An example might be the 14-19-year-old diploma
Q206 Mr Rogerson: Transport issues.
Jonathan Shaw: Absolutely. The
education department approached us last autumn in looking at how
they were going to deliver. We all want more kids to stay on in
education but, as you absolutely rightly say, Mr Rogerson, the
issue is about transport, so some resources have been put up there
and work is going to be undertaken to ensure that that happens.
Yes, there are a number, both at official level and at ministerial
level, of meetings to discuss policyand outcomes is the
key thingbut it is not a case of Defra going around policing.
It is ingrained more than it was, I believerural proofing
across government. I can go on to give other examples throughout
Q207 Sir Peter Soulsby: I just wanted
to return to the question of numbers because the suggestion has
been made to us that there has been a disproportionate reduction
in the numbers of civil servants dedicated to rural affairs, and
that rather than mainstreaming (as you describe it) it has actually
resulted in marginalisation of rural affairs. I just wondered,
if it is framed to you like that, if you could give us reassurance
that that is not in fact what has happened.
Jonathan Shaw: I do not think
it is. I would not suggest that we are getting everything right,
but in terms of characterising this in terms of the numbers of
staff and getting it rightwhat is getting it right? Getting
it right is delivering services, and that is the key thing that
people have become concerned about. I think that we want to use
our resources smarter. There has been a reduction across Whitehall,
but it should not be the sole responsibility of one department
to ensure part of our population receives services and sees their
local economies do well and prosper; it is for all of government.
That is why the PSA targets, whether it is on poverty, whether
it is on educational attainment or whether it is on health outcomes,
are something that we want to improve for all of our citizens.
So all government departments have got a responsibility to deliver
upon that, and we work with other departments to assist them develop
their policy, as indeed we do at a regional and local level. Again,
I can give examples of that in my evidence.
Q208 Sir Peter Soulsby: I think,
Mr Chairman, some figures might be helpfulperhaps not todayto
return to this point about the disproportionate reduction that
has been suggested to us.
Jonathan Shaw: In terms of my
opening remarks and why I was defensive in terms of the Chairman's
questioning, that is not the right question or the right thing
to look at; it is outcomes. If you have a huge number of peoplewhat
are they doing? I would say it is about people having a job and
part of their job may well be rural, and that might be within
other departments. So that is the number, in terms of full-time
equivalents, that you might want to add up.
Q209 Chairman: If it is difficult
to put numbers on it, what is the most important top priority
for your department? What is number one on the list?
Jonathan Shaw: Climate change
and the natural environment. That is the PSA target.
Q210 Chairman: Number two?
Jonathan Shaw: The natural environment.
They are our
Q211 Chairman: Where does rural come
on that list? If you can name numbers one and two where does rural
Jonathan Shaw: That is why I described
the difference between the PSA targets, which cut across all of
government, and then the department's Departmental
Q212 Chairman: Priorities?
Jonathan Shaw: The department's
priorities. Most of them operate within the department but, obviously,
ours operate outside of that, to ensure that those PSA targets
reach people in sparsely populated areas.
Q213 Chairman: You have given me
a very straightforward answer, you said the first and second priorities;
all I am asking is on a scale of one to whatever the priorities
are, what number is rural affairs?
Jonathan Shaw: We have eight DSOs
and two PSAs and the PSAs are the Government's priority. That
is about climate change, that is about education, that is about
health outcomes and that is the same for all of our citizens.
Within our department we need to ensure that the Government delivers
that for people in sparsely populated areas.
Q214 Chairman: In other words after
one and two everything else is equal.
Jonathan Shaw: One and two, those
are the two PSA targets that the Government has, all across Government,
and then we have eight DSOs which are of equal priority.
Q215 Chairman: It is not a difficult
Jonathan Shaw: I have answered
it in an easy way.
Q216 Chairman: You have told us what
the pan-Government target is, I am talking about the priorities
of Defra. Sir Peter asked a perfectly reasonable question which
was can you help to, if you like, dissipate or dilute the suspicion
that some have about where the priority of rural affairs lies
in Defra. Sir Peter has asked for a little more information on
the resources within the department that are being devoted to
help us understand that and, looking back, to give us an historic
perspective. I was just enquiring in a friendly sort of way where
it comes in the Richter scale of one to whateverin other
words if it is the third, the fourth or the fifth most important,
what is it?
Jonathan Shaw: Chairman, there
are eight DSOs within Defra and all are of equal value, and the
reason why I answered the question in the way that I did from
Sir Peter is because the suspicion can be heightened if you ask
that question, how many have you got in the rural division now
and how many did you have in the past. You can ask that and then
that can lead someone to be suspicious that that is a decrease
in terms of the priority, which is not the case. The question
is what is the total resource across Government, that is the question.
Q217 Chairman: Mr Cox is now bursting
to get in.
Jonathan Shaw: He is always bursting
to get in.
Q218 Mr Cox: The rural economy is
quite important and I suppose one thing that might make people
suspicious in a rural area is the sightand I pluck Devonshire
almost at randomof 83 rural post offices closing. How does
that square with a PSA4 which is to, among other things, improve
the accessibility of services in rural areas, encourage the diversity
of businesses and strong rural communities? If it does notand
I would suggest to you it is almost a done deal that it does notwas
your department consulted, did you make representations about
the importance of these institutions to the isolated rural areas
in which dozens of them are closing?
Jonathan Shaw: You will be aware,
Mr Cox, of the resource that has gone into supporting the post
office network in the last few years, I think that up to 2011
it will be £3.7 billion.
Q219 Mr Cox: This is not a general question,
this is a question about isolated rural areas for which you are
responsible and the vulnerable communities which your PSA4 seeks
to protect. The question is, when the Post Office proposes the
closure in those areas, some of them on high moors, in national
parks, have you had anything to say about it on behalf of these
Jonathan Shaw: Our department
works closely with BERR that have got the lead responsibility
for this area, and they were talking to us about sparseness. They
would look to us to ensure that when going about the changes and
making the reductions that it is done in a strategic way, so the
proposal is that 95% of rural Britain will be no further than
three miles from a post office. In addition to that we will be
working closely with a range of organisations on the 500 or so
schemes for the dual usage of pubs and shops et cetera so that
people can access particular services, and indeed spreading the
best practice that a number of organisations, including local
authorities, are doing.
Chairman: You can contemplate that, Mr
Cox, because we will come back to targets later on but, Mr Gray,
I apologise for delaying your intervention.
Mr Gray: It has been germinating away
in my mind.
Chairman: Now is the chance to let it
Mr Gray: Returning to this question of
the accusation that rural affairs have been marginalised by Defraand
you know, Minister, that I personally have the very, very highest
regard for the excellent job which you personally are doing so
it is not a personal remark I am about to make. When I was the
Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs my opposite number, Alun Michael,
was a senior minister of state, he was a member of the Privy Council,
he had been leader of the Welsh Assembly, was a person with the
Prime Minister's ear, he said, one of the very, very senior ministers
of state in Government, and you are a Parliamentary under-secretaryan
extremely good one I hasten to add.
Mr Cox: Punching above his weight.
23 Note by witness: 2011 figure will be £1.7