The future maladministration of ELS/HLS payments.
Steve Yandall writes to the Minister of Defra, the Rt.Hon.Caroline Spelman MP.
Dear Ms Spelman,
I have,this week,requested that Mr Andrew George(my constituency MP)asks questions re- the probable future maladministration of ELS/HLS payments and would like to be sure that you understand the background to my concerns?
In the October review it was announced that Natural England(NE) would have to meet a substantial savings target and that HLS would be increased and, to my reckoning, total, over 10 yrs, almost £1.6b.
An NE executive had stated, prior to that review, that they were not resourced to support stewardship fully and that they could only visit stewardship sites once every 18/36 months BUT that putting money into the rural(farming minority) economy would be considered a success. Being mindful that the 'stewards' are not conservators, are not carrying specific knowledge and do not have the support to achieve biodiversity objectives how is our environment to gain a public 'payback'?
On the basis that £1.6b, in stewardship receipts, can be interpreted as circa £2b when accounting for administration/infrastructure and financial costs over 10 years how, within the current rigours being experienced by essential services, can very real risks be taken with such a large sum of money?
The historic denominator, of course, is NE(EN). Their failure to support and maximise opportunities associated with the now defunct ESA(with substantially larger resources) did much to justify the need for a new initiative(HLS) but lacks one singularly important feature-accountability.
In reducing the resources of NE, accountability is further reduced as they have clearly been provided with an excuse for failure!
Further to the above it may be timely, due to NE's 'maverick' nature, to reconsider their 'independence'? When set up in 2006 (that, in itself, removed EN accountability) NE received huge support from the conservation industry lobby to be an 'independent' body. NE have clearly shown that trust was misplaced and should be forfeited and that they should be placed under direct ministerial control.
I understood the nature of ESA failure as it was driven by Labour spin and wasted many millions of pounds but only the imposition of 'good practise' will establish value for money, public participation (and support) and a heritage future generations will be proud of.
NE are the ultimate example of 'more presence than substance' and must be made accountable if success is to be achieved. Without results the justification for funding is removed and NE's claims of sustainability evaporate.
Dr Phillips cannot keep talking of losses when her QUANGO is charged with gains. NE cannot justify their existence any longer based on using losses as a reason for existence. Decades of conservation must now start to see gains and that can only be done by desseminating scientific knowledge,tailored to each site,in a way that can be interpreted as husbandry.
This, I believe, can only be achieved by changes to the NE board which reflect the 'real World' and cultural changes that target every environmental pillar whilst guaranteeing that costs do not add to global degradation.
In all the above instances accountability relates to 'dotted line' reference to 2 ministers thus further complicating matters.
We thus have a dichotomy.
A lower resourced unit working for Mr Benyon having to administer an expanded resource under Mr Paice thus my anticipation of failure (fiscal and environmental)and loss expressed earlier. I am sure that one set of objectives will be achieved but that the 'public justification'of funding an environmental initiative will fail.
As an example of NE's disregard for 'good practise' I made an FOI request to Dr Phillips on 16.11.10 and,despite two reminders,have,as yet,not received an acknowledgement. The Information Commisioner's office considered this delay 'bad practise'. I just consider it 'par for the course'.
When the culture changes so to will the performance of the many dedicated,and proficient, NE staff.
my best regards, Steve Yandall.