The Public Bodies Reform Bill is soon to be presented. This is the vehicle to obtain the necessary approvals to carry out the abolitions and dissolutions of DEFRA’s arm’s length bodies.
There are 90 such bodies, some are now part of what the Government does as a matter of course and others are now no longer necessary. That is the view of the Secretary of State for the Environment, Caroline Spelman, as explained in various online proclamations, and included the statement which is the headline of this report.
The objectives are laid down and include: “I am committed to increasing the transparency and accountability of DEFRA’s public bodies and to reducing their number and costs.” There is a “sustainability agenda” across the whole of Government that is not to be delegated to an external body.
It has been announced that:
- Funding will be withdrawn from the Sustainable Development Commission.
- The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution to be abolished.
- The Agricultural Wages Board, the 15 Agricultural Wages Committees, the 16 Agricultural Dwelling House Committees and the Committee on Agricultural Valuation to be abolished.
- The Commons Commissioners and the Inland Waterways Advisory Council to be abolished.
Leaner and stronger…
The intention is “to make DEFRA a leaner, stronger department, with a renewed and clearer focus on its key priorities and a simplified structure for delivering those priorities, underpinned by a
robust, credible and efficient science base”.
It will not have escaped attention that the Animal Health Agency and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency are to be merged with “as little disruption to staff and customers as possible”. New structures and ways of working, with full integration of the two agencies, are to be in place by the autumn.
The stated overview is that “in resourceconstrained times, the merger will enable the agencies to create more efficient ways of working, reduce the cost and bureaucracy needed to manage the interfaces between these agencies, DEFRA and the devolved administrations, and their customers”.
It is apparent that no section of the population is to be left to wallow in their present comfort zone and more is to follow in the name of economics. Following the fine of £160 million by the European Commission over the farm subsidies issue, DEFRA ministers will probably be anxious to show Europe that they have a tight hold on management and performance.
In the meantime there will be a number of committee members looking for alternative activity, existing members will be wondering how their involvement can be justified and funded, and DEFRA staff will be just wondering.
It is a time for clear direction. It is probably time to make up your mind which of the support services from Government are essential and write to the Minister. If you wait for a committee to give guidance, their minds may be elsewhere and, as they say, “a week is a long time in politics”.