Select Committee on Constitution Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary Memorandum by the Environment Agency

ACCOUNTABILITY MECHANISMS

  The Environment Agency is statutorily responsible to Ministers (Defra and National Assembly for Wales) but also considers itself to be accountable to those whom it regulates, partners and key stakeholders, such as other authorities with whom it works, and the public in general for the protection of the environment. The following mechanisms for accountability are in place:

1.   Statutory Advisory Committees

  1.1  The Agency has three statutory committees for each of its seven regions in England and Environment Agency Wales (EA Wales). These are Regional Environmental Protection Committees, Regional Flood Defence Committees and Regional Fisheries, Conservation, Recreation and Ecology. These statutory committees meet four times a year and provide advice to the Agency on policy and delivery aspects. There are over 2,000 members of these committees.

  1.2  The Flood Defence committees are executive and take decisions on budgetary issues such as raising levies from Local Authority members. All the Agency's regional statutory committee meetings and the EA Wales equivalents are open to the public. Papers and minutes of the regional statutory committees are made available to the public.

  1.3  There are also non-statutory advisory groups such as local Area Environment Groups which give advice to the Agency's 26 Area Managers and their teams on local issues.

2.   Consultation with Public, Industry and Stakeholders

  2.1  The Agency consults with the public and other key stakeholders in relation to its regulatory responsibilities, for example, applications for licences or variations under various licensing regimes. Under the Pollution Prevention and Control regime the stakeholders include local authorities, the Health and Safety Executive and Primary Care Trusts. As a matter of policy, the Agency prepares Decision Documents for all Pollution Prevention Control permitting decisions. These documents are publicly available and the Agency is required to consider any objections to licences being awarded.

  2.2  For environmental permit applications that are judged to be contentious locally the Agency adopts an extended consultation approach often holding public surgeries or public meetings to enable greater public participation in the consultation process. This approach goes beyond our statutory requirements. The Agency also consults stakeholders extensively on the development of strategies, policies and charging schemes in accordance with Cabinet Office Guidelines. The Agency works extensively with trade bodies, non-governmental organisations, the general public and local, regional, Welsh Assembly and Central Government.

  2.3  The Agency consulted on its corporate strategy, Making it Happen and publishes its corporate plan and annual report. Many consultation documents on policies and regulatory issues are available on the Agency's website and at the relevant local Agency office, libraries and other places open to the public.

  2.4  All the Agency's Areas and Regions are involved in working with communities and groups including farmers, residents and tenant organisations, river users and small businesses. This is to engage them on legislative issues such as licensing through IPPC, EU Groundwater Directive, Water Framework Directive and important local issues such as reducing fly-tipping, Catchment Abstraction Management Strategies or the design of flood defences.

  2.5  The Agency makes information on the environment and on its activities widely available on its website. Many documents are also available for public inspection on the Agency's public registers and it provides information in accordance with, and, where resources permit, beyond, the requirements of the Environmental Information Regulations.

3.   Board Meetings in Public

  3.1  The Agency has voluntarily been holding its Board Meetings in public all around the country for the last three years. Apart from a few confidential papers, all Board papers and minutes are available to the public on the Agency's web-site.

  3.2  The Agency's Annual Reports and "Corporate Scorecard" are produced for the Board so that the Board can monitor the performance of the Agency. This important function of the Board is performed in public. The quarterly report on progress towards performance targets is available on the Agency's website. Ministers and Parliament

4.   Ministers and Parliament

  4.1  The Agency is accountable to Ministers and through them to Parliament. It is accountable to the National Assembly for Wales for its activities and expenditure in Wales. Quarterly review meetings are also held between the Chief Executive, the Chairman and the Minister.

  4.2  The framework within which the Agency operates is set out in the Management Statement issued by the Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs and the Welsh Assembly Government. Also the Statutory Guidance on Objectives and Contributions to Sustainable Development issued by the Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs.

  4.3  The Agency was subject to a Financial Management Policy Review which concluded in March 2002. All recommendations from this have been or are in the process of being implemented.

  4.4  The work of the Agency is often the subject of scrutiny by select committees of both Houses and by the National Assembly for Wales. The Agency is also subject to National Audit Office reviews.

5.   Appeals and Actions in the Courts

  5.1  The Environment Agency is accountable to those it regulates via appeals and action in the Courts. In general, rights of appeal are set out in the relevant notification of a decision. For Third Parties, information on appeals and complaints is set out in the Agency's Customer Charter. There is an express right of appeal on regulatory decisions by the person regulated to the Secretary of State or, sometimes, a magistrate's court. Third Parties and, sometimes, operators, can seek a judicial review of the Agency's decision by the High Court.

  5.2  The Agency acts in accordance with its published Enforcement and Prosecution Policy that contains detailed guidelines in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors approved by the Attorney General. Our enforcement and prosecution policy is subject to extensive consultation and is published on the Agency's website. Certain regulatory decisions are subject to appeal to the Secretary of State. Prosecution decisions are a matter for the criminal courts to determine.

  5.3  The statutes under which the Agency operates do not generally require the Agency to give reasons for its decisions (although this may change, in respect of certain decisions, with the implementation of the Aarhus Convention). However, in accordance with the general principles of administrative law, and in order to be a fair, open and transparent regulator, the Agency recognises the need to give reasons for its decisions where it is reasonable to do so.

6.   Financial Accountability

  6.1  The financial duties of the Agency are determined by Ministers with the approval of the Treasury. Since April 2003 the National Audit Office audits the accounts for the Agency. A copy of the annual accounts and the report by the auditor are laid before each House of Parliament each year. Similarly, a report on its activities is prepared each year by the Agency, submitted to Ministers and laid by them before each House of Parliament and published. A separate report on the Agency's activities in Wales is prepared and submitted to Welsh Assembly Government.

7.   Complaints and Ombudsman

  7.1  The latest Customer Charter was launched in July 2003 and explains the standards of service offered to customers for giving advice and information, responding to incidents, applications, complaints and commendations. A new complaints and commendations procedure is to be launched in December 2003. All Ombudsman Complaints will be co-ordinated through the new post of the National Complaints and Commendations Manager who will work in conjunction with Regional Directors to manage such complaints.

  7.2  Complaints about flood defence or drainage can be investigated by the Local Government Ombudsman England or the Local Government Ombudsman Wales. All other complaints are handled by the Parliamentary Ombudsman. The Ombudsman cannot order the Agency to provide a remedy to injustices by a complainant. However, the Government almost always accepts the Ombudsman's recommendations.





 
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