This government was elected on a manifesto that committed to setting up a new independent Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) and to have the “most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth”.
Defra is seeking a further repayable cash advance from the Contingencies Fund (CFA) of £6,713,000 to proceed with setting up the OEP in advance of Royal Assent of the Environment Bill (the Bill). This new CFA is in addition to the advances of £215,000 and £536,000 notified to Parliament on 21 July and 23 October 2020 which covered essential set up expenditure up to 31 March 2021.
Under Managing Public Money rules, providing a Bill has successfully passed second reading then expenditure to make preparation for the delivery of a new service prior to Royal Assent requires an advance from the Contingencies Fund.
The requirement for this third CFA has arisen because the Environment Bill has been carried over and is still completing its Parliamentary passage. The CFA is for the period from 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022 to provide sufficient contingency cover until the end of the financial year. This CFA covers essential set up costs which include estates, recruitment, and HR, and all Interim OEP operational costs from 1 July 2021 until the end of this financial year, or until the OEP is legally established if earlier.
Regulations are required to commence the Bill provisions relating to the OEP, and we expect those Regulations to be made shortly after the Bill receives Royal Assent.
Ministers have agreed on the need to set up an Interim OEP from 1 July 2021. The Interim OEP will be set up, in non-statutory form, within Defra and will ease the introduction of the full OEP. The Interim OEP will be led by the Chair-designate, Dame Glenys Stacey, and the Interim Chief Executive-designate.
The Interim Office for Environmental Protection will be able to:
- produce and publish an independent assessment of progress in relation to the implementation of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan
- develop the Office for Environmental Protection strategy including its enforcement policy
- receive, but not investigate, complaints from members of the public about failures of public authorities to comply with environmental law
- take decisions on operational matters such as staff recruitment, accommodation and facilities
- determine approaches for how the Office for Environment Protection will form and operate, establishing its character, ways of working and voice.
The need to spend now in advance of Royal Assent will allow the Interim OEP to commence on 1 July 2021, and smooth the transition so that the OEP can begin its statutory functions as soon as practical after Royal Assent.
Parliamentary approval for additional resources of £6,713,000 for this new service will be sought in the Main Estimate for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £6,713,000 will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords