Environment Secretary David Miliband has set out the Department's priorities in an open letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair. He took the opportunity to explain the key areas of focus for Defra and how it will go about meeting the challenges ahead.

“I am determined that Defra should make the fullest possible contribution to meeting the overarching challenges for the Government which you set out,” he told the Prime Minister. “But it is the environmental challenge you identify which is our ultimate test.”

One of the first areas Mr Miliband was keen to address on his arrival was the Department's strategy. He pointed out that plans are well underway to refresh this strategy. “Since my arrival in Defra we have been examining our aims, priorities, engagement with citizens and businesses, and alignment of policies, finances and organisation.”

Mr Miliband stressed that Defra's critical responsibilities must be sorted in order to meet customer needs and maintain the Department's reputation.

“Our starting point is that there are certain things we just have to get right, because they are key to the needs of our customers and to our reputation as a Department. “Most obviously, it was clear when I arrived in the Department that we needed to engage swiftly on the single payment to farmers. We have made progress but there are still big challenges ahead.”

The environmental challenges we now face as a country are bigger than ever before, he added. “Quite simply they come down to the fact that as a nation - indeed, across much of the globe – we are living beyond our environmental means.

“So, put simply, I see Defra's mission as enabling a move toward what the WWF has called ‘one planet living'.”

On the subject of the environment he referred to the Department developing high impact policies that would enable Defra to play a lead role in EU and international agreements. He listed Defra's priorities as energy, water, waste, food and farming, land, and the marine environment.

In order to realise these priorities he stressed the need for the “right mix of tools” across the Department. “In June, Defra celebrated its fifth birthday. The Department has a track record of achievement on which I wish to build. “But I believe that as an organisation we need to find new ways of working if we are to deliver our new agenda, particularly when so many of the issues I have identified involve working across government.

“This is a Department with a strong sense of moral purpose. My overwhelming impression from talking to staff at all levels is their passion to make a difference.

“The challenges we face are daunting, but with a renewed strategic focus on making “one planet living” a reality, I think we can rise to them.”

http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/5year-strategy/index.htm