The delivery of public services for which Defra is responsible will be shaken up to line up with the coalition Government’s commitments on service delivery, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said today.
Mrs Spelman announced that, as part of the review of Defra’s arms length bodies, the Commission for Rural Communities will be abolished, with a strengthened Rural Communities Policy Unit within Defra.
Mrs Spelman said:
“With an urgent need to drive down debt and reduce Government spending we will have to make some tough decisions. Our belief is that policy should be driven from the centre and that our arms lengths bodies will be efficient and effective in meeting customer needs.
We are committed to improving the quality of life for those living in rural areas and we will put the fair treatment of rural communities at the centre of Government.
Focusing rural policy making within the department will give rural communities and interest groups a direct link to central policymakers and a stronger champion for rural issues at the heart of Government.
I pay tribute to the commitment and the quality of work undertaken by the Commission for Rural Communities, its staff, Commissioners and Chairman, the Rev Dr Stuart Burgess CBE, over the past four years.”
Mrs Spelman also announced that Animal Health and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency would be merged as soon as possible.
“These two agencies both work to combat animal diseases, and by bringing together their services, expertise and scientific capability, we will improve our resilience and create a strong organisation that provides a range of services from on farm advice and emergency response to the world-class laboratory work and science for which we are rightly recognised.”
It is intended that the forthcoming Public Bodies (Reform) Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech will provide the legislative vehicle under which the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) will stop operating. In the interim, the CRC senior management team will provide a smooth transition back into central Government. In due course, there may be opportunities for some key existing CRC staff to join the Rural Communities Policy Unit in order to minimise the loss of experience.
Together with staff already in the Department supporting Ministers on rural policy, these will form a new team to work across Government and beyond. The merger of Animal Health and VLA will go ahead shortly, with as little disruption to staff and customers as possible. A single Chief Executive for the new agency will be appointed this summer.
The Commission for Rural Communities was established in 2006, and currently has an annual budget of £5.8 million.
The rural team in Defra will be strengthened, to improve the existing policy work of the department. Its main functions will be:
- supporting ministers;
- acting as a centre of rural expertise;
- championing rural needs and issues across government departments and other bodies; and
- working with the civic sector to promote rural solutions at the local level.
- Further information is available at www.defra.gov.uk/2010/06/29/wms-alb/.