EFRA committee: MPs are concerned that the hollowing out of Defra has left the core Department less effective in persuading decision-makers in other government departments and Brussels to follow its agenda. Firm Ministerial leadership and sufficient in-house expertise is needed at the heart of Defra to ensure it can deliver its priorities effectively.
Committee Chair, Anne McIntosh MP commented: “Defra is a small government department so must punch above its weight if it is to deliver its cross-cutting aims for the environment, rural communities and British farming, at home and in Brussels. Yet the Department is worryingly vulnerable. Defra has not identified which specific policies and programmes will be reduced in future years, despite of repeated requests for clarity. Ministers must be more transparent on where emergency money, such as winter floods response funding, is found. We also need to know what the impact of cuts will be on policy delivery.”
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee today publishes, Work of the Committee: 2010-15, its review of its scrutiny of Defra over the past five years. The Committee commends some actions such as the Department’s response to crises such as the floods of winter 2013-14, horsemeat contamination, the emergence of tree diseases such as ash die-back, and financial pressures on the dairy industry. Miss McIntosh MP said: “Defra has taken welcome steps to implement our recommendations on key issues such as strengthening dog control legislation and improving the Water Act. It is heartening too that our investigation on dairy prices could lead to more robust regulation of the groceries supply chain.”
Policy failures MPs criticise Defra’s policy failures on many issues – for example to develop strong waste policies or to convince other government ministers to turn its Natural Environment White Paper aims for valuing natural capital into reality. The Committee identifies areas for any successor select committee to pursue, including to keep up pressure on the Department to ensure that UK farmers get the best deal from Brussels out of the Common Agricultural Policy and monitoring of the level of funding for flood protection. MPs call for Defra to publish a one-year on update report from Defra to each of the Committee’s future reports to help Parliament hold the Department to account on implementation of its recommendations.