Memorandum submitted by the Local Government
Our attention has been drawn to this new Inquiry
and the Association has the following comments related to your
terms of reference:
It is undoubtedly too early (one
year into the life of the new Department) to be able to say conclusively
whether DEFRA, and its vision, are making a difference. We are
aware that new working arrangements are still bedding in and that
there has been a big staff turnover in some areas. We recognise
the ambition of the Department and our commentswhere they
are criticalare intended to assist in achieving their objectives.
The Department covers a huge span
of subjects and the vision is inevitably wide-ranging and ambitious.
It recognises the key issues that need to be addressed but, as
with any vision statement, it is the reality in practice that
is ultimately important.
Our understanding of the new Department
is that, in addition to its own departmental responsibilities
(for farming, food processing, environmental and countryside issues),
DEFRA is responsible for two policy areas which cut across the
whole of Government:
sustainable development; and
The Association has yet to see any
significant evidence of DEFRA influencing the plans and policy
proposals of other government departments on either of these two
important cross-cutting issues. Your Inquiry will, no doubt, wish
to explore the influence that the new department has been able
to exert across government.
From the soundings we have been able
to take on the matter, there would appear to be a perception within
local government that the new Department is still weighted towards
environmental issues and regulation. Rural affairs seems to have
a Cinderella role and "sustainable development" appears
to focus on environmental sustainability, rather than on an over-arching
approach to integrate social, economic and environmental thinking
into all decision-making across government.
We are not convinced that there are
strong links between DEFRA and other government departments which
have important roles in common policy areasespecially DTI
(eg for energy and waste policy) and the former DTLR (for environmental
and urban affairs). The town and country differentiation (as in
DTLR/DEFRA) still appears to fly in the face of statements made
in the urban and rural white papers. Your inquiry may wish to
probe the strength of these important connections.
A number of local authorities have
had some difficulty in dealing with the Department on their local
Public Service Agreements, when they have sought to include targets
on recycling waste. This is an area to which the Government appears
to give priority but the LGA's impression is that the Department's
capacity to negotiate with local authorities on waste recycling
targets has been limited by a lack of resources being applied
to this priority.
Also on waste policy matters, it
was unfortunate that the new Department should find itself, within
its first year of operation, embroiled in a crisis surrounding
the disposal of refrigerators. The LGA appreciates the recognition
and involvement afforded to local government over recent months
to attempt to address this issue (although mechanisms and funding
arrangements have yet to be finalised). However, the big issue
here is one of foresight and forward planning. It will be important
for DEFRA to ensure that there are no unforeseen repetitions of
the fridges crisis and your Inquiry may wish to explore the Department's
forward planning arrangements with particular regard to future
European regulations. The forthcoming Waste Electrical and Electronic
Equipment (WEEE) Directive is likely to require careful planning
to ensure that the "polluter pays" principles are carried
through and that there is no additional financial burden on local
authorities or council tax payers.
With regard to Rural Affairs, the
LGA is involved in the newly created Rural Affairs Forum for England
(RAFE). It will be important for this mechanism (and the regional
rural affairs fora which are also being established) to be more
than "talking shops", for practitioners' views to be
heard and for real action to result from the processcarried
through to the development of future rural policyacross
On the issue of animal welfare/protection
against animal diseases, your Inquiry will no doubt learn lessons
from the series of Inquiries established following the Foot and
Mouth outbreak. There are, however, concerns within local government
that there have not yet been sufficient steps taken to protect
the UK farming industry from the dangers of imported meat/animal
products. Linked to this is a potential danger, in a rush to re-stock
culled farms, of re-introducing bovine TB to previously "clean"
We detect a lack of clarity or, at
least, some confusion about the boundaries between DEFRA and the
Food Standards Agency regarding food issues. A very recent example
concerns illegal imports of animal products. In January FSA wrote
to local government heads of environmental health and trading
standards asking them to report details of any seizures. In April
DEFRA asked our sister organization, LACORS, to request the same
people to supply the same information to them. This suggests a
possible communication problem.
Finally, your Inquiry may wish to
explore the relationship between DEFRA and the Countryside Agency.
There is sometimes a perception that both are independently active
in some policy areas (eg rural transport) and your Inquiry may
wish to consider the value that each adds to the other.