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Departmental Rebranding

Volume 407: debated on Thursday 19 June 2003

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If she will make a statement on the purpose of the rebranding of her Department. [120190]

A lot of work has gone into making DEFRA an efficient organisation that serves the public interest and is focused on the needs of its customers. [Interruption.] Conservative Members may chortle, but this is not something that the Conservative Government ever sought to do. We seek to be a Department that is modern, professional and forward-looking. We want that to be reflected by a new sense of confidence among our staff, and for the public to see the effects of change and modernisation. The rebranding exercise is just one part of that work, helping to establish a new identity and explain the role and purpose of the new Department.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm the figures extracted by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), which show that the rebranding exercise cost £329,000, and that a further £200,000 was spent on putting up new signs? The right hon. Gentleman says that extensive research has helped DEFRA to develop a better understanding of what its customers expect from it. Is it not the case, however, that customers expect something other than invisibility in matters concerning the environment, and something other than disengagement in matters concerning agriculture? Do they not also expect the Department not to waste half a million pounds of taxpayers' money?

The public expect those things from us, and that is what we are trying to give them. There is a little disingenuousness in the hon. Gentleman's question. The work to which he refers includes scoping the project, producing briefing and listening to consumers. It has been suggested that that money has gone into producing a new logo, and I would like to correct that. The direct cost of the new DEFRA logo was £24,000. It is part of a change in the culture and the capacity to deliver on the part of the Department.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the review being conducted by Lord Haskins could inevitably lead to further rebranding of the Department? Does my right hon. Friend accept, first, that all change causes uncertainty and that it is important to complete the process as quickly as possible; and secondly, that although policy and delivery may be different, it is important that, even if they are separated, there are means to communicate and link up those two aims?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. First, any reorganisation—any uncertainty—causes problems because it takes people's eyes off the ball of delivery. We will do all that we can to avoid that. Secondly, on the link between policy and delivery, the wrong policy well delivered is not good news, nor is the right policy badly delivered. We need good policy and good delivery, which is what we are working on.

I do not think that there will be the necessity to rebrand the Department, but there may be changes in relation to the agencies that are part of the DEFRA family and how things are delivered, for instance, through the regional development agencies, local government and so on. The likelihood of some changes in those directions is indicated by the statement of principles that Lord Haskins has already put in the public domain.

Does the Minister understand the justified resentment in our rural communities at time and money being wasted on rebranding exercises when, to take just one example, his Department's Rural Payments Agency is persistently late in delivering to British farmers the payments to which they are entitled and on which the cash flow of their businesses may depend? Is it not time that he started to treat effective service delivery as rather more important a priority than rebranding?

I suppose that there is some resentment when people are told by the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues that rebranding is not necessary. Of course, he skips the necessity to improve the quality of services, policies and delivery, which is all part of the same issue—improving quality and improving delivery.

The point is that the new Department takes on enormously important responsibilities for the environment and all the things that are necessary for life and the quality of life; for farming and food; for rural economies; for fisheries; and for the issues that we have already talked about today. People need to understand that we are changing in the direction that the public and our consumers want. As much as the hon. Gentleman tries to obscure it, that is what we are doing—but there we are, that is the Opposition we have got.

Indeed, the examples of incompetence and poor priorities go much further than British agriculture. Will the Minister confirm that, because the Government got their sums wrong over the cost of implementing their right-to-roam legislation, they are having to cut their vital villages grant programme in this and future years? Is it not time that he committed himself to delivering a fair deal for the countryside by concentrating first on good housekeeping and practical policy delivery rather than on slogans and spin?

Well, that sounded like slogans and spin to me, but it gives me the opportunity to correct some impressions about the Countryside Agency's spending. There were fears that it would be far too high and that that would dramatically affect the vital villages programme. That has been brought under control. There has been a short-term suspension of activities in the vital villages programme, which I think is unnecessary. I have made that clear to the agency.

The hon. Gentleman criticises the Rural Payments Agency. It has vastly improved its performance and we are investing a great deal of money in the IT that will enable it to do so even more responsibly. I see that a certain amount has been invested in rebranding the Conservative party. I agree that that is a waste of money.