The total spending of this department is in the budget at £3,157,000,000 for 2009-10.
The department for the Environment, food and rural affairs, is a dab hand at spending on consultants. Last year its spending on professional services and consultancy reached the height of £573,000,000. This does include Warm Front spending which can do some good insulating people’s homes and cutting fuel bills.. The core department spent £37,000,000 on consultancy and professional services.
Its quangos include Animal health, Centre for Environment, Central Science Laboratory, Government decontamination service,Marine and Fisheries Agency,Regulatory Science Agency, Rural Payments Agency, Veterinary Laboratories Agency, Veterinary medicines Directorate,Commission for Rural Communities, Consumer Council for Water,Environment Agency,Food from Britain, Gangmasters Licensing Authority,Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Natural England, and the Sustainable Development Commission.
It has been criticised for its financial management generally, and especially for its poor management of the single payments scheme for farmers. Over one third of all the claims cost more to process than they were worth. The scheme was much delayed and the error level was high.
The Environment Agency is one of the largest government quangos. It has plenty of senior staff to argue how little resource they have, and to ration the real work it needs to do to reduce flood risk. There appear to be more men and women with pens hiring consultants than there are men in diggers clearing and improving drainage channels.Like many quangos it is good at writing memos, drawing up plans, increasing licence fees at faster rates than general inflation, cluttering the riverside with signs and instructions, and issuing warnings based on risk assessments. This is the body that thinks the way to tackle flood risk is to draw maps showing who is at risk, to put up their insurance premia, and then issue regular warnings when it rains that they might be flooded.
What the public want them to do is to get on with putting in the schemes that would remove the flood risk. Many of thse are small and cheap, entailing some dredging or clearing of existing water channels, or adding a few more land drains . Many would like to see less spent on management and lawyers, less spent on stating the obvious and making up endless risk assessments, and more on practical work to keep people’s living rooms dry. It would also help if they more robust in opposing over development in areas prone to flooding. Many of the flood problems have been brought on or made worse by permitting building on flood plain and water meadow.
The other mixed bag of quangos should be subject to review. We do not need so many of them . Their useful work could be given to a few amalgamated bodies or to elected local government. Which ones would you like abolished?