Spending review to shape long-term environmental policies

A comprehensive spending review of the Government's programmes was announced on 24 July. The review will be of fundamental significance in determining the shape of the Government's long-term policies on the environment, transport, planning and the countryside.

The review's objectives were announced in a parliamentary answer by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Alistair Darling.1 It will, he said, "be truly comprehensive, embracing all items of public expenditure. It will also be focused on the long term, looking at the shape of public spending to the end of the century and beyond."

Mr Darling went on: "Ministers have agreed that they will examine each and every item in his or her Department to consider whether it meets the public interest, whether it contributes to the achievement of the Government's objectives, and whether there is scope for improving efficiency and effectiveness."

The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) is to carry out six reviews, including two - on countryside and rural policy and on housing - in conjunction with other Departments. They are to be completed by next March, although "emerging findings" of most reviews will be reported to the Cabinet's Public Expenditure Committee in the autumn.

Announcing the terms of reference for the DETR's reviews, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said: "In particular, they will consider how far we are meeting the aims of enhancing opportunity, fairness and sustainable development, while promoting employment and investment for sound economic growth. In addition we will want to consider the efficiency with which each programme is operated and the value for money that is provided to the taxpayer."

The terms of the DETR's reviews are:

  • Environment: The review will determine the objectives of environmental policy and the "arguments for Government intervention, including the balance between public spending and other tools." It will also examine options for delivering policy which minimise public expenditure and maximise economic and social benefits.

    Specific issues to be addressed in the review are:

  • Likely developments in environmental policy over the review period.

  • Pressures for action arising from the domestic, EC and international policy agenda, "taking account of subsidiarity arguments and negotiability in the UK response."

  • What more can be done to take into account the economic and social costs and benefits of environment-led initiatives.

  • "The scope for substituting economic instruments and voluntary agreements for public spending and for regulation, including the scope for, and use of, additional green taxes."

  • Proposals for "greening" Government.

  • Transport: This review will be carried out in parallel with the preparation of a White Paper on integrated transport policy, due next spring. A consultation paper on transport policy is due later in the summer.

    The review will determine the objectives of transport policy, test the case for different forms of Government intervention in delivering an integrated transport policy, and explore ways of delivering such a policy at minimum public spending cost and maximum net benefits to society.

    A key issue will be to assess the role of trunk roads in an integrated transport policy, "bearing in mind, in particular, the forecast growth in congestion," and to develop a programme for the trunk road network. The review will also explore ways of attracting passengers and freight to the railways, and the potential for reducing the environmental impacts of freight transport.

    The roles of local and central government in developing local transport programmes will also be reviewed, along with the use of congestion charges, parking controls and other ways of managing traffic demand. Options for promoting bus use will be explored, including changes to the current regulatory regime for buses.

  • Planning: Detailed objectives for this review, drawing on work already under way in the DETR, include ways of improving the effectiveness of the planning system, taking account of its effect on competitiveness and contribution to sustainable development. The review will also consider the case for decentralising land use planning policies to regional level, and the "scope for improving efficiency through the use of economic instruments in planning policy."

    A major issue inherited from the previous Government is the rate of urbanisation of the countryside. The review will consider planning policies for "accommodating household formation", taking into account of impacts on public spending and regeneration, the economic costs and benefits of present planning controls, and any potential for the Government to influence the rate of household growth.

  • Countryside: This review is to be carried out in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture. It will cover the rationale for a separate spending programme to promote rural regeneration; the scope for rationalising programmes run by the Countryside Commission, the Rural Development Commission, English Nature and MAFF; and the long-term implications of reform of the Common Agriculture Policy on UK countryside, agri-environmental and rural policies.

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