23 April 2007 NEW INQUIRY

23 April 2007 NEW INQUIRY

The structure and operation of Government and the challenge of Climate Change

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) is today launching an inquiry focussing on the adequacy of the current structure and operation of government in dealing with the challenge posed by climate change. As a cross-departmental select committee, EAC has over the years stressed the need for effective co-operation and communication between departments of government, so that the appropriate policies are seamlessly implemented across the breadth of government activity without the contradictions and inconsistencies that sometimes occur.

The challenge posed by climate change, which the current Prime Minister and others have referred to as possibly the greatest threat faced by mankind, requires an unprecedented level of cross-departmental activity. The Committee would like to consider what might be the best structure of government for the provision of effective and co-ordinated policies to tackle climate change. In particular the Committee would like to identify those areas in which there is currently fragmented leadership or policy making within government, and where the implementation of policy is uncoordinated, inconsistent or contradictory. The Committee would also like to investigate other aspects affecting the ability of departments to effectively tackle climate change, such as the setting of targets and the expertise provided by staff. Within this area, the Committee has noted several key areas of interest.

Leadership and the distribution of departmental responsibilities. The sometimes confused distribution of responsibilities between departments can lead to a fragmented sense of where the responsibility for a particular issue actually lies. This can limit the effectiveness of government strategies and confuse and frustrate outside organisations in their dealings with government. Such fragmented distribution of responsibilities is further complicated by the consequent lack of direction, leadership and clarity of policy. Past reports of the Committee have identified several areas where the distribution of responsibilities has complicated the Government's response to climate change, notably:

€ Procurement, where the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) under HM Treasury takes the policy lead, while DEFRA leads on sustainable procurement.

€ Housing, where matters such as building regulations, domestic microgeneration and the planning of new housing provision are all subject to fragmented departmental responsibilities.

€ Energy policy, where recent discussions by political and environmental commentators have focussed on the need better to take account of the environmental context of energy provision through a possible restructuring of the DTI and DEFRA.

Cross-departmental strategies. Strategies promoting and enforcing government policies across departments can play a crucial role in unifying the approach of different departments towards climate change. The Committee would like particularly to focus on:

€ what cross-departmental strategies exist, and to what extent they are effective;

€ how effectively such strategies can be managed;

€ where there is a need for new or revised cross-departmental strategies, and how these could be implemented.

The Committee would also like to investigate the role of the Office of Climate Change in its inter-departmental activity, and how this body interacts with existing cross-departmental strategies.

The influence and assignment of targets. The Committee would like to focus on the way in which departments are assigned targets and budgets, and whether possible changes to this system could result in a more effective and uniform approach to the challenge of climate change. Particular areas of interest include:

€ Setting of targets. Concerns have also been raised that targets may be set for departments which have little relevance to the effective delivery of policy, and which are often based more on process than on outcome.

€ Public Service Agreements (PSAs). The Committee is particularly interested to consider what changes might be needed to the current system of PSAs better to direct the policies of departments to the challenge of climate change.

Personnel and staffing. The Committee is also interested in how easily departments of state can maintain and increase their scientific and technical expertise to deal with specific areas of policy making aimed at combating climate change. In particular, the Committee is interested in matters regarding the recruitment and training of specialist staff, and the desirability of frequent circulation of such staff between roles and departments.

The Committee invites organisations and members of the public to submit memoranda setting out their views, both on those points listed above and on other relevant areas of interest.

Written evidence should be sent to the Committee in Word format by Friday 25th May 2007, by e-mail to eacom@parliament.uk A brief guidance note on the preparation and submission of evidence is available on the Committee's web pages. Following the submission of evidence, the Committee intend to take oral evidence from a limited number of organisations in June, and subsequently to publish a report. For further information on this inquiry, please telephone 020-7219-0248.

Notes for Editors

1. Details of all the Committee's press releases and inquiries, together with its Reports, oral evidence and other publications, are available on the Committee's Internet home page, which can be found at:

The Environmental Audit Committee

Under the terms of the Standing Order No. 152A the Environmental Audit Committee is to "consider to what extent the policies and programmes of government departments and non-departmental public bodies contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development: to audit their performance against such targets as may be set for them by her Majesty's Ministers; and to report thereon to the House." The Committee was set up on 14 July 2005.