Defra have announced the demise of the Commission for Rural Communities and the merging of the Animal Health Agency and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency.
Here are what I think are the most interesting parts of the Secretary of State's announcement:
'...Defra has a very big network, with over 80 arms-length bodies. In my first month, I have made it my priority to examine the network critically. In line with the coalition Government’s commitments, I am applying the ‘three Government tests’ to each of our bodies: does it perform a technical function? does it need to be politically impartial? does it act independently to establish facts?'
'The Government believes policy advice should be carried out by Departments, not arms length bodies. Defra will, therefore, reinforce its capacity to undertake rural work within the Department; a strengthened Rural Communities Policy Unit will work across Government to ensure that the interests of rural communities are fully reflected in policies and programmes.'
'Following the principle that Government should do only those things which only Government can do, we are examining how parts of the Defra network’s assets could be marketed or be run better through the voluntary sector, while protecting key Defra outcomes. Further announcements will follow, against the principles outlined above.'
This blog has alluded to the 'retreat from policy' by statutory agencies. The aim of bringing policy back into Defra, where Ministers are accountable, has some very real advantages but it may have disadvantages too.
But this announcement signals three things to me: things are happening apace, the need to find spending cuts is driving some of these changes, but there are real changes in the way government and its surviving agencies will operate.
Interesting Mark. There are parts of Animal Health which used to be called the the Wildlife Inspectorate (Sched 4 birds, CITES, licensing etc) and that only changed about 18 months ago. I wonder how these will now fare being part of a truly vet based department. They haven't as yet moved onto Natural England but you can see it coming. I do have some concern how habitat and species protection will now operate under this new system.