Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
WEDNESDAY 21 NOVEMBER 2001
140. So you are going to be making some changes?
(Mr Wakeford) Yes, we are.
141. Have you started planning for that?
(Mr Wakeford) We have, yes.
142. Yours is nearly a £54 million business,
but you have had quite an explosion in the number of additional
people you are employing. Can you give us a flavour? You have
brought two organisations together, so one might have argued that
there should be economies of scale, yet the number of people,
for example, in rural services, I see in the draft corporate plan,
rises from three full-time equivalents to 12 in the year 2001,
and that figure is sustained through the five years of that programme.
If we come right to the end of the corporate plan we find that
full-time equivalents have gone up from 118.5I notice you
have not brought the half with yourising to 186 by the
end of the plan. Give us a flavour as to why you need all these
people. What are they all going to be doing?
(Mr Wakeford) The Rural White paper established a
series of new programmes which the Countryside Agency is carrying
out in market towns, in the Vital Villages programme, in the Access
to Mapping programme under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act.
Those were all new programmes which were not undertaken by either
of the previous organisations, they were announced in the Rural
White Paper. They were then formalised in the strategy and corporate
plan that we submitted to the Government immediately after the
Rural White Paper. So there were savings made as a result of merging
the Agencies. My finance department has struggled a bit, but we
have actually contracted the two finance departments into one
which is not very much larger than the original. So in a sense,
with a larger organisation, the finance department has created
savings. There have also been savings in other central services
like human resources. The people that we are putting in place
now are going to deliver a much bigger programme for next year,
because obviously you need to train people up and get them able
to do it. So if you look at the spend line of the Agency, the
grain-in-aid line of the Agency, you will find that that is growing
rapidly over the next two years (that is, year 2 and year 3 of
the current spending review plan) whereas staff costs are held
relatively steady over that period. What we are doing now is investing
in the staff to operate these new programmes which are really
just getting off the ground now.
143. I was intrigued by one line. Rural proofing,
from our earlier exchange, sounds to me like you sent out your
tick boxes, but you did not actually monitor with a great deal
of detail the results coming back from government departments,
there was no adversarial input, it was "Please take note
of the boxes." Yet from 2000-2001 rural proofing studies
in terms of people rises from ten through to 22 at the end of
the five-year period. What are all these people going to be doing
to improve the rural proofing effectiveness? Why do you need to
double the number of people?
(Mr Wakeford) Actually, listening to some of the questions
and our answers to the questions from the Committee today, I find
myself thinking that we definitely need to invest more in this
area. There are a number of areas where you have told us that
we have not been doing our job properly. I think that we are doing
it quite well with the posts that we already have.
144. More than the 22 you have planned for?
(Mr Wakeford) I do not have 22 at the moment. I can
tell you, as soon as I think I have too many, I will immediately
be stopping that. Even the posts that we have in the current yearthe
tenhave suffered considerably, because I have vacancies
and I have not secured the degree of secondments in from government
departments that we had planned to do. Some of those 22 posts
were actually designated to be inwards secondees from local government
and from government departments, because we recognised that that
is the best way of building understanding across Government of
the rural dimension.
145. In a rapidly expanding organisation, though,
what systems do you have continually to review that you are not,
if you like, growing like Topsy? It is very easy to keep taking
on people because you think that the universe that we are dealing
with is getting bigger and bigger, rather than saying, "Now
hang on, let's just have a look and make certain that we're getting
good productivity out of the people that we've got, before we
simply expand the labour force." What systems do you have
to get that right balance?
(Mr Wakeford) We have been getting ourselves equipped
to deliver, and the question is how far you can go. I have been
under some pressure from the team saying, "We haven't got
enough staff to deliver Vital Villages in the way that you want
to, Chief Executive, at the moment." I have, however, advised
my Board that I am not going to them to look for an increase in
the staff resource line in the current corporate plan. That is
placing some pressure on the organisations, which I have always
found is a good way of revealing where the slack is. I worked
with Michael Heseltine in the DoE in the early 1980s when it was
a fairly crude approach that was followed, but as long as you
do not actually follow right the way through with the crude approach,
then you draw out the evidence to make judgements and you can
reach the right decisions. We are starting a series of programme
evaluations in April next year, in order to look in turn at each
of our areas of worknot so much to look at the outputs
which are easier to measure, but to look at the outcomes themselves,
the difference that they are making on the ground. So I do have
a series of checks in there, whether it is the crude "We're
going to cap the staffing money" and my directors then have
to work out how to do that, even though we are delivering a programme
that is increasing, or whether it is a more formal evaluation
system than that.
146. "Merger reserve" is shown as
£4.4 million. What is it for?
(Mr Wakeford) I would need to come back to you on
147. That is at page 18 in your accounts. The
notes are not helpful; they do not tell us anything about it.
If you are going to come back, could you also tell me what the
"Deferred Government Grant" of nearly £2 million
(Mr Wakeford) I suspect that that is an underspend
on Rural Transport Partnership. As I said to you, on that programme
the Government gave us the money in three even slices to start
with, and it turns out that we could not spend that money in that
148. I just make this observation that as a
set of accounts, with notes attached, the notes are singularly
unhelpful in giving you an idea of what the item of expenditure
(Mr Wakeford) I take your point, and since I have
not signed the accounts for this year, I can actually learn from
your observation and make sure that we put that right in this
year's accounts. Perhaps it is fortunate that they are late.
149. You made a useful distinction between "outputs"
and "outcomes", because in your corporate plan you set
down what your outputs are, and some of them can be measured better
than others, but you do attempt to look at this. How do you measure
the outcomes of what you have done? To take an exampleyour
200 Doorstep Greens which have been created by April 2005how
do you work out whether that was a tremendously good choice of
strategy and that it produced some genuinely positive deliverable
that people appreciate? You have measured a number and said, "We've
done it", but to what end?
(Mr Wakeford) Absolutely right. I can say there is
a kind of cascade here. We are working within the broad policy
framework which the Government sets, whether it is in the Rural
White Paper or other ways. Because we are a non-departmental public
body, we have statutory independence, but when they give us a
grant-in-aid it is obviously because they intend us to achieve
particular things with it. Within that, the Agency has established
a strategy in which we have translated the goals which Ewen outlined
at the very beginning of this session into a number of main programmesseven
implementation programmes and the programme of Rural Assurance
and Rural Proofing. In our strategy Towards Tomorrow's Countryside,
each of those seven programmes identified the sorts of outcomes
we are looking for, in fairly broad strategic terms. Starting
next April, we have a series of evaluation reviews which will
look at each of those programmes in turn to try to see whether
the output that we are achievingand we will know we are
achieving them, because we measure our output against the corporate
plan, as you rightly sayare really delivering things on
the ground. To take the Doorstep Greens example that you have
specified, we will look at a cross-section or a random set of
communitiesI quite like to look at some that do not have
Doorstep Greens or any Greens at allto try to identify
the benefits of bringing that sort of resource to communities.
I can in a sense give you some more flavour of that, because it
is the Doorstep Greens where we had some success, the 245 Millennium
Greens that we produced using money from the Millennium Commission.
150. Please do not interpret this as a criticism
of the programme. I think it is probably a very good programme.
(Mr Wakeford) What I was going on to say, though,
was that one of the lessons that we learnt from that was that
it was quite easy to produce Millennium GreensI am coming
back to these communities with Jaguars, I am afraidit is
quite easy to produce Millennium Greens in some villages, but
it is much more difficult to produce them in places like Grimethorpe,
yet we have produced several like the Millennium Green in Grimethorpe.
We evaluated those and found that the benefits were sufficient
to say that with the New Opportunities Fund, through our partnership
with the Doorstep Greens programme, we would focus on deprived
communities. Indeed, I am putting more staff resources per Doorstep
Green than Millennium Green, because those deprived communities
require more help to get a Doorstep Green programme off the ground.
151. We see reference in the corporate plan
to yet another body to examine rural issues, or at least a forum
for rural facilities called the National Rural Sounding Board.
I assume it is not an orchestra. What does it do? Is that covered
(Mr Wakeford) It is the Rural Affairs Forum for England.
It has been renamed.
152. I see, it is rebranding.
(Mr Wakeford) It is the Government's body, but we
will have a seat on that body, according to the Rural White Paper,
and we will be helping the Government with the secretariat of
153. So is it the sort of spawn of the old MAFF
farming one? Is it the son or the daughter or whatever of that?
(Mr Cameron) You will have to ask the Minister about
its exact nature.
154. You are definitely on it, are you not?
(Mr Cameron) We are helping with the administration
and we will have a seat on it. It is an organisation obviously
of rural organisations who want to input their views to the Government.
155. I think we can take it that it has not
yet got going, has it?
(Mr Cameron) There will be an announcement next week,
(Mr Wakeford) You are not supposed to say that!
156. It does say that you are providing administrative
and secretarial support, so ignorance of its precise purpose or
when it is getting going is perhaps a little threatening to your
allocation of staff time.
(Mr Wakeford) We do not have an ignorance of it. The
Government has consulted on the terms of it. It will be making
an announcement shortly, I am sure they would say. I believe personally
that it is a successor to a number of similar bodies that have
been set up on an ad hoc basis over the last few years. I had
the pleasure of serving on the sounding board that Michael Meacher
set up to help him with the Rural White Paper. More recently there
is the Rural Task Force which came together as a result of a conversation
between Ewen and the Prime Minister. There has been a need over
the past years to have something like this, and to have it formalised
is probably good.
157. Does it not ever strike you that there
are perhaps one or two too many of these bodies?
(Mr Wakeford) And in the Agency's evidence back to
the Government about the need for this it said that for goodness
sake, this body must have a very clearly defined purpose of ensuring
that all of the different bodies who are active know what they're
doing, rather than setting out to do something itself.
158. At the beginning I asked you, Mr Cameron,
if you could in one minute tell me what you do. This is the final
question, with the final answer in one minute. Convince me that
you have not been "had" by the Government. You are the
Rural Advocate. You are supposed to get in there, get into government
departments and argue the countryside case. You cannot, can you?
It is an utterly impossible job. It is a bit of a wallpaper, is
it not? It is a wallpaper on behalf of, in effect, the Government.
This Government, we learn, is dealt with mainly by the Chancellor
and the Prime Minister, so how do you even begin to try to be
effective? Why do you not go to the Prime Minister and say, "I've
got to make my mind up. How am I going to be independent if I'm
part of the Government? I can't be both, it doesn't work"?
(Mr Cameron) I think that certainly both as Chairman
of the Countryside Agency and Rural Advocate I can remain independent.
I have always lobbied, as I see it, on behalf of the countryside
and will continue to do so. I have made my views known independently
to this Government on various occasions about various issues,
starting with modulation right from the word go, and other areas.
For instance, just before the election I very publicly took the
view that the environment ought to be included within the new
department that was being set up.
Chairman: You were hardly pushing against a
closed door on that one, were you?
159. It was not an entirely open door either,
(Mr Cameron) Exactly. There had been a letter to The
Times which I was responding to, saying that it should be
excluded. I just felt, from the point of view of the countryside,
that it would continue to be ignored unless it was included. As
to other independent activities, there is the question of vaccination
over foot and mouth. I again took a public view that I felt that
there was room for the Government to look again at the question
of vaccination more seriously in September. I believe it is possible
to take an independent line. It is not always best, I may say,
to take it in public. The insinuation behind your questioning
is that our line was too close to the Government's. Actually,
we are the Government's advisers, and when their line of policy
differs from ours maybe you ought to ask them the questions. It
is a question of who is following whom.