Decc and Defra 'too weak', say MPs

9th April 2015

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Matthew Wayman

Government departments responsible for energy and the environment are too weak to stand up to other departments, according to the cross-party groups of MPs which scrutinise them.

The creation of Decc “seemed like a good idea at the time”, Tim Yeo, chair of the energy and climate change committee said at the launch of a report on the group’s work during the current parliament. “But I don’t think the department has worked as well as it could because Decc is essentially underresourced. It is weak.”

Yeo claimed that Decc is often outgunned by the departments for transport, business and local government, as well as the Treasury. “All that has led to policy being formed with too much regard to the short-term impact rather than the long-term, which is particularly dangerous in energy policy where the investment cycle is so very long,” he said.

Meanwhile, MPs scrutinising Defra said the environment department was “worryingly vulnerable”. Budget cuts have left the core department less effective in persuading decision-makers in other government departments and Brussels to follow its agenda, the Efra committee said in a report examining Defra’s performance over the past five years. The MPs concluded that Defra needs firm, ministerial leadership and better in-house expertise to ensure it can deliver its priorities.

Campaign group WWF believes reform of government departments is necessary to properly protect the environment. Outdated Whitehall structures have led to short-term and piecemeal approaches to dealing the species and habitat loss, pollution and climate change, says a report for the WWF by former government adviser Duncan Brack. It recommends the creation of an Office of Environmental Responsibility to oversee a 25-year plan for the environment.

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