August 13th 2010 ~ DEFRA will lose millions of pounds from its budget - but what were last year's millions spent on?
The EFRA Committee took evidence (pdf) from Dame Helen Ghosh about DEFRA's departmental Annual Report and Estimates and how money had actually been spent: Oral evidence taken on Wednesday 11 November and Wednesday 2 December 2009 - Dame Helen Ghosh about DEFRA's latest annual report. An unbelievable extract from La-la land. Here is EFRA asking what on earth DEFRA spends its money on:
Q25 Chairman: ....you said at the beginning that you want to tell a story, a sense of narrative, yet, in trying to find these things in this Report, you are going here, there and everywhere. This is a massive programme and I would have thought you would have wanted to consolidate to give a clear picture for the reader as to what you have been doing with this money, and I am struggling to find it.
Dame Helen Ghosh: All I can say is that we will take that drafting suggestion for next year. As I say, we always have difficulty in a department like ours where a lot of our activity contributes to a lot of things we do and, unless it becomes a very old- fashioned, straightforward description of every line of spending and what we did with it, it is quite difficult to tell the story, but, if you want more facts of that kind, we will certainly put them in.
Q26 Chairman: I think what I am saying to you is that this is your annual shop window on what your Department is doing, and £3.9 billion merits a page and a quarter of some description, the odd number, and then you turn to another page. If this is a showcase policy, then showcase it properly.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Indeed.
Ms Millar (AKA Ms Anne Marie Millar, Director of Finance): One point, I thought, which it might be worth clarifying is that £3.9 billion relates to the scheme which is over a number of years, I think at least seven years, so we are not spending that in one year.
Q27 Chairman: It does not tell the reader that.
MsMillar: It is £200 million per year and it is on an increasing basis.
Dame Helen Ghosh: I think the Report makes that point. I think what the Chairman is saying is, "Can we have more examples of what it's being spent on?" I am sure we can get some very good examples because I know that Mike was down in the South West, for example, and, to go back to Mr Tipping's point, the RDA there is taking both the rural economic development issues and the sustainability issues extremely seriously, and I am sure we would be able to produce some good stories. Indeed, the Management Board all went over to Cambridgeshire not long ago and looked at some of the projects that they were funding and they were extremely good in terms of sustainability, renewable energy and so on and so forth, so, if we have got stories to tell, we will tell them.
Chairman: Well, we would like to pick up on your kind offer of something which actually does tell the story because we would like to know....Q2 Chairman:......I wondered, when the report is produced, as a group of the senior members of the Department, do you sit down with the Secretary of State and go through it with him and say, "Well, here's the take stock, this is where we are" before this thing actually sees the light of day?
Dame Helen Ghosh: What we did this year is put together the kind of group, precisely as you describe, of senior people from across the Department. I think what actually strikes me every year when I prepare for this hearing is that in fact so much of what we do actually, in a sense, is not something that it is capable of being achieved within a year, and a great many, and it is something, I am sure, the Committee will want to come back to, of our outcomes are things that you achieve over time; they are, by definition, longer-term. We have intermediate ways of measuring them, we have lots of input measures that we, as the Management Board, use to monitor, but it is not something simply where you can say, "At the beginning of the year, we said we'd do this and at the end of the year we have achieved it". We then have a pool of exchange of ideas and think about how to present what we have done, and we have actually presented it in a rather different kind of way this year.We have not simply said, "This is ourDSO1 and this is what we've done. This is our other DSO and this is what we've done", but we have tried to make it more thematic to tell the story. I do think the Report has in it a number of specific achievements, and we have got even more specific achievements, I think, that we can report in the rest of the calendar year in terms of the Marine Bill about to come out, climate change projections published, excellent citizen engagement campaigns and good stuff on food, but it is almost by the nature of what we do that we are telling a longer-term story.
Q3 Chairman: Maybe I have not found it, but one of the things that you normally expect in an annual report is a sort of dossier of who is who in the Department. Is that in here because I could not find it?
Dame Helen Ghosh: Well, again there is a question, and I think for next year we are hoping to achieve having our accounts and our Departmental Report in the same publication. That would be the ideal thing so that you could see all the two things together. You certainly have all the detail on who we are, what we are paid and so on in the resource accounts and I think you have a picture at the beginning somewhere because I was looking at it the other day.
Q4 Chairman: We have a picture of you....
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