Select Committee on European Communities Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Questions 260 - 279)




  260.  Dr Hindson, thank you for joining us. For the sake of the record, would you begin by describing the role of the Field Studies Council and its general background?
  (Dr Hindson)  I have brought with me some bits and pieces that the Sub-Committee can peruse at its leisure. They describe the work of the Field Studies Council especially in central and eastern Europe. The Field Studies Council started in 1943. We now run 16 environmental education or field centres in England and Wales. Our main work in the UK is to provide field courses related to the school curriculum. About 40,000 to 50,000 school students visit our centres each year. Some of these places are well known, for example Flatford Mill in Suffolk. We also run a centre in Epping Forest and in the City of London. I run a small bit of it which is concerned with environmental education and training largely overseas, although some of its work takes place in the UK. A large proportion of that work takes place in central and eastern Europe. I have a team of four to five people. We network with other organisations to provide training all over the world, but most of our work is in central and eastern Europe. We are gradually expanding especially in Russia and Ukraine and the newly-independent states.

  261.  How is that funded?
  (Dr Hindson)  We have a variety of sources. Most of our money comes from the British Government in one way or another by way of the British Council, through the Know How Fund proper and the Environmental Know How Fund. It also comes through smaller agencies like the Charities Aid Foundation. I am not sure whether or not it is government money, but recently we won an international lottery award for work in India rather than in this region. We get money from the European Union for projects involving four countries of the EU dealing with environmental education courses for universities. We have also had some PHARE and TACIS partnership projects. We have made applications for the LIEN programme. Money also comes from business. Our work began on the basis of funding by British Petroleum. We started in Poland about eight years ago. We still get some corporate sponsorship and funding but it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain, especially for Russia and Ukraine.

  262.  Tell us what you are doing particularly in Russia and Ukraine. Fortunately, it coincides with the places that we visited.
  (Dr Hindson)  In the Ukraine we have three ongoing projects. The larger is located in Donetsk in the Russian-speaking eastern part of Ukraine. It is also an area in which the Know How Fund has a number of projects relating to advising the region on restructuring the mining industry, for example how to cope with the closure of mines. As to that project we are working with the local Ministry of Environmental Protection together with a number of local NGOs. It is funded by the Environmental Know How Fund and the World Bank, although the latter's contribution is very small. The Know How Fund contributes about £130,000 and the World Bank's contribution is about £15,000. That project has three main thrusts. One is to develop environmental education materials and trainers to work in schools. The second element is to train the local ministry on how to develop community awareness. That was quite strong under the communist regime but has almost totally disappeared with the decline of communism. The third area is how to run effective public awareness-raising campaigns, because the local ministry has the responsibility to inform the general public about environmental issues.

  263.  That is not TACIS, is it? TACIS has an enormous programme concerned with raising public awareness?
  (Dr Hindson)  TACIS is not involved in that project. The second project is a very small one. We work with an NGO in a place called Kryvyi Ril which is a big industrial city. That is concerned with environmental education through music, art and drama. That is a small but very interesting project. Thirdly, we are working with the British Council in Kiev on a government-funded project to try to develop a new approach to training on governmental organisations. The British Council has a network of five or six information centres in the Ukraine. We are working with it on a project to develop learning sectors (to use a trendy phrase) for non-governmental organisations where NGO volunteers can come and either read printed material or gain access to training on the worldwide web and gain access to local consultancies. In Russia we have two projects. One is funded under the new Charities Aid Foundation scheme. That is located in Moscow. It works with the National Russian Association of Environmental Education (ASEKO). It is designed to train NGOs in management and how to work with local communities to get things done in the local environment. That is a two-year project. The second Russian project is in St Petersburg with the local branch of ASEKO. That is a project being undertaken with the University of St Petersburg, which is a pedagogical university, and a NGO to develop teacher training programmes for environmental education.

  264.  How many staff do you have there?
  (Dr Hindson)  In Russia and the Ukraine we have just one member of staff who is largely responsible for co-ordinating things and translation/interpretation. She is employed by the Field Studies Council, but all the work on the ground is done by the local non-governmental organisations or the Ministry of Environmental Protection, both of whom have part-time project officers allocated to the task. They are not directly employed by the Field Studies Council; they are employed locally and part-funded by money from the project.

  265.  They are Russians and Ukrainians, basically?
  (Dr Hindson)  Yes.

Countess of Mar

  266.  Can you tell us a little more about the environmental NGOs in Russia and Ukraine? For example, how are they funded and what sort of interests do they represent?
  (Dr Hindson)  In my experience, there are basically two sorts of NGO. First, one has quite a large number of relatively small issues-based NGOs. For example, in Donetsk in Ukraine there are four or five which focus on particular issues. One of them recently formed under the Know How Fund is called Green City. That just focuses on trying to improve the yards around tall blocks. There are a large number of those. The second group comprises more national ones with local branches, such as the National Eco Centres of the Ukraine or the Ukraine Society for Nature Protection. There is another one called Eco Prava. Quite a lot of them are hang-overs from the communist period like nature protection societies. They are funded in two ways. The more active innovative lobbying-type NGOs in my experience are funded mostly by overseas support from a whole variety of different sources. Most of them rely on that. When that starts they become active; when it stops, unless they have thought ahead, they often stop as well. Some of them are quangos rather than NGOs and have some government support, usually from local authorities. Some get small amounts of business support, but it is incredibly difficult to persuade businesses to do it. I know that you have been to the Ukraine and you are aware of the situation there. To persuade businesses to give money is very difficult. However, in Donetsk part of the Know How Fund project was to run a public awareness campaign. Part of what it had to do was to raise sponsorship. It managed to do that in Donetsk from local businesses. It raised about $8,000 and was incredibly pleased about it. It was a remarkable achievement in the Ukraine. That money came mainly from the steel industries and a vodka manufacturer. The project logo was put on the bottles. It was a mixture of funding but it was largely western funded.

  267.  So, it is very much a hand-to-mouth existence?
  (Dr Hindson)  Yes.

  268.  To what extent do they have influence over the authorities? Are they respected like our WWF and RSPB?
  (Dr Hindson)  In my experience, there are not really any national lobbying-type NGOs such as WWF or RSPB. Some have specific foci. Eco Prava lobbies to change the law. It took part in the AÐrhus Convention recently. There is also the National Institute of Democracy and another one called Mama `86 which is partly a women's group and partly an environmental group. They campaign but not in the same way as WWF and not particularly effectively. They have one or two successes. The National Institute of Democracy has just managed to get a Bill concerned with participation into the parliamentary process, but in my experience it is not very successful[1].

  269.  You mention in your paper a lack of understanding of how NGOs work in the newly-independent states. How far have you found that cultural differences both among NGOs and official bodies compared with Western Europe are a significant obstacle when working in Ukraine and Russia? What is the best way of overcoming it?
  (Dr Hindson)  One of the biggest differences between our NGOs and those we work with is that a large number of them are almost completely volunteer organisations. Some of the national Eco Centres and quangos have full-time employees, but the numbers are going down as it becomes difficult to pay salaries. They are almost entirely volunteer organisations. I do not know whether you met any NGOs. They work incredibly hard and make a lot of personal sacrifices to get work done and undertake projects. We do not always understand the amount of sacrifice and hard work they put in and lack of payment involved. Among government bodies the biggest issue is money. There is a lack of understanding about how things work in the Ukraine. I think that part of our job is to challenge how things work. I do not think that we should just accept it because that is how it has always been done. For example, in Donetsk the biggest problem is that the local officials have not been paid their salaries for three months. That is very common. School teachers and university lecturers are all paid one or two months behind or they are not paid for December but are paid for January. That is a big problem. These people are doing a lot of work but are not getting any money for it.

Lord Middleton

  270.  As to co-ordination between TACIS and other aid programmes, your report points out that there is considerable room for improvement in the co-ordination of the programmes of the different donor agencies, especially in Ukraine and Russia. Can you suggest how this can be brought about?
  (Dr Hindson)  Before this meeting I talked to a number of colleagues in Ukraine. They highlighted the lack of co-ordination as one of the biggest problems with donor agencies, including the individual EU countries and TACIS and the United States. Very often they do the same things. One colleague said that very often they were doing the same things with the same people and making the same mistakes. The suggestion about co-ordination came from one or two sources. My colleagues suggested that if it was established in the right way the new regional environmental centre could have some co-ordinating role and that perhaps that could be one of the functions of TACIS. Rather than try to give away large amounts of money, it could co-ordinate the different agencies in some way. One of the problems, which perhaps is highlighted by a case study of the regional environmental centre, is that all of the donor agencies have different regulations, do things in different ways and ask for project proposals to be formulated with different deadlines. To co-ordinate them will take a massive activity in terms of trying to get people to see the need. For example, I believe that in the case of the new regional environmental centre although the donors are trying to co-ordinate some will give money only to the Ukraine, some to Russia and some to other specific projects. One of the difficulties in trying to get these regional environmental centres set up was the donors themselves. The message I received was that co-ordination should be relatively formal but so as not to slow down the process it would require discipline on the part of the donor agencies to try to match their systems. It may be that if TACIS can be reorganised in some way they can do that rather than form new regional centres[2].


  271.  The concept of RECs is very unpopular in Ukraine and Russia. It is felt that it is being imposed upon them. The one we saw in Budapest four years ago was tremendously successful. The feeling is that that model has been picked up and dropped on top of the Ukraine and Russia without sufficient consultation.
  (Dr Hindson)  I think that is right. On the other hand, the people to whom I have spoken believe that the concept is a good idea. I was working in Hungary when the regional environmental centre started there. It had a very difficult three-year start-up. It was distrusted and received a lot of flak from the different countries that it was trying to support. There were accusations of bias about the giving of money. A lot can be learnt from it. Gradually, it managed to sort itself out. It is now doing a very good job in the countries in which it is involved, especially through the local country offices. I am more optimistic but perhaps cynical. The moment it has money to give out a lot of the problems will probably disappear. The moment it involves the NGO community in the country a lot of the difficulties will disappear. The concerns of the people to whom I have spoken have been related mainly to how the process of setting it up has been dealt with. I believe that the fact the donor agencies have appeared to set up competition between Russia and the Ukraine as to where one of the major offices should be located has caused unnecessary antagonism between the two countries. I would be quite optimistic if it was done in the right way. I am not sure where the process is at the moment.

  272.  I think the general theme was that there was lack of consultation and the west was trying to impose solutions on them.
  (Dr Hindson)  I think that it will work if there can be a lot more local involvement and ownership. I think that the REC model can be useful.

Lord Middleton

  273.  To pursue the question of co-ordination and co-operation, we read with interest in your paper that there may well be closer working between the Member States in Europe in area of NGO training. Perhaps you would elaborate on that.
  (Dr Hindson)  There is quite a lot of interest in training non-governmental organisations. The United States has a large number of organisations that do that. One of the biggest in the Ukraine is called Counterpart which has a large number of programmes, not so much on environmental issues as on social issues, women's issues, human rights and political responsibility. They have been doing a large amount of work on setting up independent groups and training non-governmental organisations. At the moment, because of the Field Studies Council network in the regions we tend to know what is going on. We have made links with these organisations independently but if some mechanism can be found to talk to and link with some of the bigger donor agencies in the United States we can capitalise on the benefits. Earlier I spoke about setting up these NGO learning centres. To begin with, we were told by the environmental NGOs that NGOs needed a lot of training and were badly provided for. However, when we spoke to Counterpart we found that it had developed a lot of local material already. We were able to bring it into the project. A lot of support is needed to build up a network of qualified, experienced people.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

  274.  TACIS has sometimes been described as a people-to-people programme. We have heard some very positive comments about so-called Bistro facilities, especially from beneficiaries in St Petersburg. In paragraph 4.2 of your paper you mention certain shortcomings: lack of awareness of the reality and so on. If the shortcomings can be put right, is there a case for expanding the facility for introducing other programmes or promoting small local projects?
  (Dr Hindson)  Yes. I hope that it did not sound too much like sour grapes in the sense that because I did not get money from the Bistro therefore I should complain about it. I was impressed by two things. One was the fact that Bistro was quick, which is what the word means. I was less impressed by the general complexity of the application process for a very young NGO. It is working with quite small NGOs that do not have experience of the application process. They find it quite complex and nerve-racking. Sometimes they feel that their honesty is being called into question. Why does it want to do this or that? Why does it cost so much? We tried to explain that it was all part of the process of making sure that the application was right. When they did not get the money there was a very curt feedback—"You have not got the money." I felt that it was not right. I followed it up and spoke to the people in Moscow who made the decisions. From my experience in St Petersburg I began to uncover the fact that the people who made the judgment did not really have the experience required to say whether or not the projects were worthwhile. I think that the user-friendliness of the application process for a lot of programmes in the EU, not just TACIS, needs to be streamlined. The whole process needs to be made accessible to non-government organisations. The best model that I have come across to date is the international lottery in the UK. I have heard nothing but praise for the structure of the international lottery applications and the way that the whole system is run, the booklet and the friendliness of the language. It also holds regional meetings in which it explains the process to people; it goes out to NGOs, explains how to do it and how to be successful and says, "We are here to help you and want to give you money." If improvements like that can be made and there is an opportunity for feedback and assistance of NGOs then I suggest that the scheme can be extended. I am glad to hear that you have some success stories. It would be nice to hear more about those. I think that it is the opportunity for interaction and feedback from donors which is one of the matters that NGOs appreciate, particularly in countries where they are just beginning to develop.

  275.  What about the proper role of consultants and other experts from EU donor countries? You have spoken about user-friendliness and so on. Do you think that the consultants and so forth invest sufficient time and intellectual effort in understanding the needs, attitudes and traditions of their clients?
  (Dr Hindson)  Yes and no. It is a bit difficult to say because I am one. I do my best. I do not speak Russian or Ukrainian, although one of my project officers does. Many consultants do not make a big enough effort. One comes across quite a large number of consultants who are in the region for a variety of reasons. One of them is that they are not good enough to get work in the UK but are good enough to get work in other areas. The ability of NGOs and others to judge how good a consultant is is not as well developed as perhaps it should be. They cannot always be certain that they are getting value for money. Some consultants make a good deal of effort. Normally, they are the ones associated with slightly longer-term projects. One of the problems is that many of the projects are funded for only a year. Therefore, the consultant puts a vast amount of time and effort into getting to know the user and the person working in the region. Very often, it is unpaid time. It is interesting to talk to the Know How Fund to see whether it will pay for time like acclimatisation visits and things like that. Usually, it does not. When there is a short-term project most consultants will try to do their best but there is considerable room for improvement. That is one of the structural issues in running projects. If the donor agencies recognise that the changes that they want to achieve will take longer than a year and are prepared to give project funding for two or three years, certainly in my area of NGO training, then the situation will improve. I do not want to paint too black a picture.

  276.  We have heard a fair amount of criticism about large consultancy firms that the decision-taking as to what projects should be proceeded with has less to do with what people want and more to do with what the consultants can provide. That is not the universal view, but is it one that you share?
  (Dr Hindson)  Certainly I have come across projects like that. I work very closely with one of our local consultants in the Ukraine, Vladimir Tikhi. Interestingly enough, he was a member of the board that set up a regional environmental centre but left for a variety of reasons. He said that what he would appreciate most of all was the trust of donor agencies to make more local decisions. For example, he is involved in a USAID-funded project on pesticides. It has just gone through the process of trying to select 10 NGOs in a competitive manner to develop education materials for farmers on pesticide management. The USAID allowed it to set up local committees to judge the worth of each proposal. The local committees made one set of decisions but then USAID sent some consultants from the States who looked through the proposals and came up with a different set of decisions. It was the USAID's version that had to be accepted because of the funding. There is a very difficult balance between funding accountability, funding decisions and local responsibility. That has created some tension. The more local ownership there is the better.

  277.  Do you want to enlarge on the point you make in 4.3 about the bureaucracy. You say that it is in marked contrast to the UK programmes. How can TACIS be made more demand-led?
  (Dr Hindson)  As to bureaucracy, TACIS has a terrible reputation among the people with whom I work. It is very slow and bureaucratic. People do not answer letters and it is difficult to telephone people. It is slow to make decisions. Timescales lapse by three, four, five, six or nine months. That puts off a lot of NGOs who are even thinking about using the opportunities that TACIS can provide. There is also a problem with lack of user-friendliness in terms of the volume of documents. There is lack of managerial training on the part of some TACIS officers in order to be able to work with people. There is a lack of opportunities for interaction and feedback. I think that TACIS could be a wonderful thing if it could be made to work and be made efficient. The frustrating point from my perspective is that there is a lot of money and opportunity there but it is difficult to get hold of it because of the bureaucratic problem. There is lack of local decision-making. I cannot claim to understand TACIS completely. If someone can explain it to me I shall be very grateful. The constant referral to Brussels within some programmes slows down everything. We have a project in Bulgaria and Romania and also the Black Sea programme. There one has the strange situation where one has funding for a geographic entity, which is done by PHARE and TACIS, but the administration of the programme is so inefficiently handled that if one TACIS officer just forgets to file an application to extend the deadline the project is lost. Because of that the project has to come to an end. The regulations say that without a formal extension it has to close. Therefore, the money was lost and the project came to a standstill.

  278.  How can it be more demand-led by the recipient countries instead of the apparent imposition from outside? How can we improve the process so that we know what the people actually want to do under TACIS?
  (Dr Hindson)  From the perspective of the Ukraine, which is a country about which I have greater knowledge, the way that other organisations do it is to go out to the people and find out what they want and then develop a coherent strategy over three to five years based on what they have been told by the people on the ground. That process can take a number of forms. There can be individual consultations with NGOs or open meetings or TACIS roadshows, as it were. The feedback one has is that if one spends six months talking to people to find out their requirements and produces a strategic programme it will bring results. That would not be a difficult process. Consulting people is not all that difficult.

Lord Middleton

  279.  Presumably, there will not be much demand for TACIS if the general perception is that TACIS cannot deliver?
  (Dr Hindson)  I think you are right, except that the situation can be rescued if TACIS begins to behave differently and delivers results. Bear in mind that they may be delivering wonderful results in all sorts of areas but not the area of which I have experience. From my perspective, there needs to be quite a big rescue job. One has an organisation with a huge image problem, and it is not delivering. Something should be done about it if TACIS is to continue as a donor organisation.

1   Neither do they have the large membership of WWF/RSPB so cannot claim to represent a membership. Few NGOs in the Ukraine are really democratically oranised and those that do have a membership do not have effective ways of seeking their views to lobby. Back

2   Another idea might be for different donors to fund different thematic areas of work, but again this might be difficult. Back

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