I’m not the best person to write about organisational structures because this is a subject that sometimes makes my eyes glaze over. Sometimes, but not always, and so this blog deals with just that subject and on three different levels.
Martin Harper has been dealing with the 3-card trick in his blog recently (here and here). The three cards, which may be shuffled every three years (and this year is reshuffle time) are Natural England, the Environment Agency and that bit of the FC that will now be Forest Services.
The name of the game, led by Francis (bollocks) Maude (of whom we have thankfully heard very little in the last year, although unfortunately that doesn’t mean he has disappeared off the scene) has been to get rid of some cards through mergers or annulments.
Martin’s blogs are spot on about how raw a deal nature would get if NE were merged with EA. I think that this would be a disaster and would be a very clear sign that this government means nature no good at all. And Martin is also quite right that a merger of NE and Forest Services to create a Forest and Wildlife Service would be an excellent move. In fact there are a few bits of EA which could be plucked from their current parent body and put into a Forest and Wildlife Service too. I won’t go over this ground again as Martin has covered the ground so well.
What happens to government agencies or delivery bodies can also happen to government departments themselves. Since all departments have shrunk in size over the last few years (except perhaps DFID) there will be a temptation to change the architecture of Whitehall departments.
There are some strange aspects of the division of labour between government departments. For example, you might think that DFID, the Department for International Development spends its money on international development – but it doesn’t. DFID has a patchy influence in funding some of the UK Overseas Territories, and that has always seemed odd to me. And DFID is also the source of money that the UK pays to potential EU accession states (eg Turkey at the moment) so that they can do things to prepare themselves for joining the EU. That always seems odd too. A bit of rationalising wouldn’t do any harm at all. Why not make the Foreign Office (FCO) the department responsible for all aspects of the UKOTs instead of, as now, spreading the responsibility between FCO, Defra (a bit and with no budget), DFID and DCMS?
We could get rid of Defra altogether; farming and fishing could go to Business, Innovation and Skills where the NFU would have a rude awakening of their real importance to government; the Food Standards Agency and all food-related stuff could go to the Department of Health; the natural environment could go to an enlarged DECC or even to DCMS. Could nature do any worse than in its present home?
Maybe the Treasury should have a larger role in reporting on our natural capital – then they would have more of a stake in building it up rather than running it down?
However, generally speaking, I don’t think that fiddling with Whitehall departments would make much difference to anything. The thing that makes the biggest difference, and this is a general truth (I claim), is who gets which jobs. The right people in the right jobs makes more difference than the right organisation of government structures. How I wish we had the right ministerial team in Defra who would get on with their jobs and make a significant difference. Structures and resources are important but it remains true that a small group of determined people can make a difference whatever the difficulties – and if they have political power then they can make a great deal of difference. Still, it’s difficult to see any really good politicians out there with a passion for the natural world and so it’s difficult to see the natural environment ever winning the jackpot in the Whitehall lottery.
Having dealt with agencies and government departments let us now turn to the tangled bank (see here, here, here, here and here); the mix of environmental NGOs. It seems more and more obvious to me that we have too many NGOs and that as a result, nature’s voice doesn’t get heard.
There were four organisations who did the most to get a Marine Act; the Marine Conservation Society, WWF, the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB. A week ago I went on a march with/for MCS but didn’t see any of the other three involved in it. This week I must get around to responding to the Wildlife Trusts’ request for me to respond to the consultation on MCZs. I don’t think WWF has asked me to do anything on this subject although they clearly want more MCZs to be created. I can’t find an ask on the RSPB website either (except for my money) although I did ge a letter from the RSPB (what a quaint means of communication these days) asking me to respond to the consultation. It seems to me that we have four organisations who want the same things but aren’t working together quite enough to maximise the chance, for we supporters and for nature, that the desired result comes through.
I suspect that the same might be said for agriculture, climate change, forestry and almost every other issue. The differences in view between Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB over neonicotinoids are quite small (and probably unnoticed by most of their supporters anyway) and yet the voice for nature is quite fragmented.
If we had a large number of wildlife NGOs who disagreed about things then it would still be rather annoying but at least it would make some sense to have so many of them, but the thing is that our wildlife NGOs actually agree about almost everything. In which case, we should ask whether some mergers or much closer working would be the least we should expect of our present NGOs. If you aren’t convinced then tell me why the NFU isn’t trying to split into the Hereford Bull Farmers Union, the Wheat Farmers Union, the Sugar Beet Farmers Union, the Free-range Organic Brown Egg Producers Union and all the other possible divisions of one voice.
Our NGOs need, if they are to influence government, to work much more closely together, with one voice – nature’s voice – if they are to make a difference in political advocacy.