The Summary of Efra's report "The Role of DEFRA" can be found herehttp://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200102/cmselect/cmenvfru/991/99103.htm#a1
4. The new Department's remit is extremely broad. It stretches from the administration of subsidy payments to farmers to overall responsibility for the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol in the United Kingdom, taking in rural development, fisheries, waste disposal, water and flooding, conservation, animal health, pollution and some elements of food safety. Much of its remit is covered by European legislation, and DEFRA therefore has a significant role to play in negotiations within Europe. The breadth of DEFRA's responsibilities has led to concern about its ability to give sufficient priority to all areas of its work. Such worries were raised by our witnesses, many of whom asked whether the environment, or agriculture, had been sidelined, how the Department would address rural affairs, and whether the concept of 'sustainable development' gave adequate over-arching direction to the Department.
5. Although responsibility for policy-making for rural areas, and for the environment, has been located within DEFRA, other Departments are responsible for policies which impact on such matters. For example, there are particular concerns about the delivery of services such as schools, public transport, post offices and policing in rural areas; DEFRA obviously has no direct control over such matters. The old Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions was established because of a desire to put transport and planning policy squarely in the context of wider environmental policy: now it appears that DEFRA can only negotiate with other Departments in seeking to ensure that their policies take account of the environment.
......it is vital that, as with sustainable development, mechanisms are put in place to enable DEFRA to exercise influence over other Government Departments to ensure that they take account of the rural dimension in policy-making. It is the effectiveness of such mechanisms which are of concern, a point which, again, we return to below. In addition, we are concerned that DEFRA should recognise that it has two principal roles: as the advocate of sustainable development, and as the promoter of the interests of rural areas. We recommend that the Department now acknowledge explicitly that these are its primary roles, and that they are of equal importance to its work. DEFRA should also recognise its responsibility to help explain to urban Britain the issues for which it is responsible....
17. The Government appears to reject the notion that it should prioritise the needs of farmers. Lord Whitty told us that "it is important to say that we are not the ministry for farmers; we are the ministry for rural affairs and the environment ... the criticism that we are not sufficiently farmer-focused seems to me a wrong one and one that leads to a misunderstanding of the changes to the Government machinery that we intended to achieve". He observed that, excluding the Ministry of Defence, "MAFF was the only remaining department that was responsible for a single line of industry. It had a certain Soviet-life overtone to it". He urged agriculture to "see itself in a wider context and its relationship with Government in a wider context". However, he did agree that Government wanted to see a thriving agricultural sector.
18. The framework in which agriculture operates, which determines whether it is able to function profitably, is largely dependent on decisions taken by Government and the European Union. Whether it likes it or not DEFRA is more than just an interlocutor for agriculture and a wide range of other, related, industries: it is a funder, regulator, negotiator and mediator. It is important, therefore, that DEFRA makes clear the central role played by agriculture in delivering a host of its objectives, and in particular those relating to rural communities, the countryside and sustainable development.
40. Perhaps the most telling criticism of the Department has come from those responsible for inquiring into aspects of the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in 2001. For example, concerns about the slow pace of the Department were reflected by Professor Sir Brian Follett, Chairman of the Royal Society Inquiry into Infectious Diseases in Livestock in his comment on the Action Plan drawn up by DEFRA to deal with the illegal importation of meat. When asked what was missing from the Plan, he replied "action". Even sharper criticism came from Dr Iain Anderson, the Chairman of the 'Lessons Learned' inquiry, in the foreword to his report. In it he said
"Within MAFF, and now DEFRA, I detected a culture predisposed to decision taking by committee with an associated fear of personal risk taking. Such a climate does not encourage creative initiative. It inhibits adaptive behaviour, and organisational learning which, over time, lowers the quality of decisions taken. It seems to me that a reappraisal of prevailing attitudes and behaviours within the Department would be beneficial".
Dr Anderson suggested that the Department should assess the extent to which it needed to "foster abilities in operational management and project management", in addition to existing policy-making skills. He also said that leadership skills should be "husbanded and treasured and developed. In routine, they are always important; in crises they are absolutely essential". Finally he recommended that DEFRA should engage with and learn from its stakeholders or, as he put it, "be guided by very penetrating contact with its customer group".
41. In its own report on the first year of implementation of its plan for change, the Developing DEFRA Programme, the Department records the practical difficulties it faced after its formation. These included the fact that the business systems such as information technology used by MAFF were "for purely pragmatic reasons" adopted across the whole Department, "which meant that it felt more like a takeover than a merger". Harmonising day-to-day matters such as IT networks, switchboards, travel allowances, security passes, and corporate directories "were major irritants but were not easy or inexpensive to fix". The report talks of the "practical difficulties, the culture clashes, the irritations and the frustrations of change", and concedes that in its first year the change programme has mainly comprised setting a new agenda and addressing the practical difficulties of merger: only in "the next period" is it expected that real cultural change will begin. It is apparent from DEFRA's own statements and from the evidence we received that significant change to the culture of the Department is far from complete - indeed it has barely begun.
42. In our Report on the Departmental Annual Report 2002 we recorded that DEFRA and its staff had faced a period of considerable upheaval, as a result first of foot and mouth disease and second of the setting up of the new Department and subsequent efforts to change culture and focus. We commented that "there is little evidence of current management capability to lead change in such difficult circumstances". We recommended that the Department's change plan and the competence available to deliver it be subject to external review. In its reply the Government said that its Change Programme had been reviewed together with the Office of Public Services, which had "helped the Department to identify the priority action areas for the next stage [of the Programme] ... These priorities include an assessment of the skills and competence of DEFRA's senior managers and action to fill any gaps". We note that DEFRA has reviewed its plan for change, the Developing DEFRA Programme, and that the review has identified priorities for the next stage of the programme, including an assessment of the skills and competence of senior managers. We welcome that work, which tallies with the recommendation we made in our earlier Report. We recommend that the Department report back to us regularly on its progress in implementing the Programme and, particularly the action it takes to rectify any deficiencies in the skills of senior managers. We also recommend that the Department address seriously the comments made by Dr Anderson about fostering abilities in operational and project management, husbanding leadership skills, and develop ever closer links with its stakeholders, and report back to us the steps it intends to take to make progress in these areas.