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Defra figure 'underestimates' cost of Triennial Review

Defra spent more than £540,000 on the Triennial Review of the Environment Agency (EA) and Natural England (NE), and announced in June that the two agencies should remain separate.

The Government revealed its spending on the review in a Freedom of Information release on the Gov.uk website.

The breakdown of Defra’s spending was: 

  • £442,000 attributed to an in-house team led by a department director
  • £98,686 on an external consultation with KPMG
  • members of the review’s Challenge Group “offered their services at no cost”

Defra said it had established a dedicated team to manage its programme of Triennial Reviews, which undertook this review. The team was led by a Defra director, and was made up of civil servants and secondees from the EA and NE. The review team also contributed to Triennial Reviews of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and the Veterinary Products Committee at the same time, the department noted.

The review, which was part of a scheduled consideration of so-called non-departmental public bodies taking place every three years, looked at merging the two organisations to save money and increase effectiveness.

The review took almost a year – between 1 July 2012, when preparatory work began and 26 June 2013 – prompting criticism from former WRAP director Phillip Ward.

He said: “£540K is a serious underestimate of the cost of the review. It is only Defra’s costs – the EA and NE will both have spent considerable sums in staff time also responding to the review and compiling and providing information. The reason it cost so much was that it took a year from the establishment of the team to producing a report. 

“Since it is a Triennial Review, it will presumably only be two years until they start the process again. I suspect this review will not be fully implemented before the next one starts.” 

Matthew Farrow, Environmental Services Association (ESA) director of policy, told MRW: “We always believed there was no pressing need for such a fundamental review of the two bodies at this time, and that it would have made more sense to have a review once the experience of creating Natural Resources Wales was understood so that this could have been taken into account.”

He added that the cost-benefit analysis of the review shows the net financial benefits of implementing the recommendations were meant to outweigh the cost, but, as Defra has recognised, “the uncertainty range for such benefits is very large”.

The ESA, the CIWM and the Resource Association welcomed the decision to keep the EA and NE as separate entities, MRW reported in June.

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