Alan Davies AM, Minister for Natural Resources and Food
It is now three months since Natural Resources Wales was established and successfully took over the functions of the Countryside Council for Wales, the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission Wales. Since then the Board has held its first meeting in public, has put in place its executive directors and leadership teams and is prioritising the full integration of all its teams over the course of 2013/14.
I am pleased that Natural Resources Wales is demonstrating an integrated and joined up approach to enable the sustainable development of Wales’ natural resources. As the largest sponsored body in Wales, it is the only organisation in the world which has such a unique mix of activities in terms of managing, protecting and using Wales’ natural resources.
The organisation is currently tackling some major issues, not least the challenges of tree health, including the spread of the disease Phytophthora Ramorum, on which I issued a written statement last week, and Chalara Fraxinea. Natural Resources Wales is putting plans in place to respond to the concerns of private woodland owners and the timber processing sector.
The next step will be to ensure we have a modern and joined-up statutory framework in place for Natural Resources Wales to enable more effective, proactive and sustainable use of natural resources to deliver long-term benefits for Wales. We intend to introduce new legislation through the Environment Bill to do this and Natural Resources Wales are working closely with us to make sure that we make the necessary changes to equip them for the future.
I have also made clear to the Chair and Chief Executive that a key priority for them is to foster and create a new culture within the new organisation. The purpose of creating Natural Resource Wales was not simply to streamline the organisational structures but was to create a new kind of body with a fresh approach to its regulatory role. I made clear in the remit letter that I expect Natural Resource Wales to take a positive and proactive approach to working in partnership to deliver our shared vision for the future management of our natural resources.
I recently met the Chair and Chief Executive to discuss their ideas for developing the Corporate Plan for 2014/15 to 2016/17. To ensure that all interested parties are able to contribute to the Plan, Natural Resources Wales has arranged a series of external and internal events across Wales to discuss their future priorities and ways of working. These discussions will continue at the Royal Welsh Show and the National Eisteddfod. Natural Resources Wales will then formally consult on its draft corporate plan in the autumn.
I have also approved Natural Resources Wales’ first business plan and the Board has recently agreed the format and reporting arrangement for their corporate dashboard which will provide at-a-glance views of key performance indicators relevant to their objectives and business processes. My officials are working with Natural Resources Wales officials to develop a performance monitoring report which will include measures to monitor performance against Welsh Ministers’ priorities as identified in the remit letter, delivery in respect of statutory duties and indicators of the organisation’s internal progress.
I recently wrote to the Chair of Natural Resources Wales providing him with revised targets for future savings. The agreed targets reflect up–to-date budget information in terms of costs and savings and identify a total cash releasing saving of £127 million over the ten years, which I am pleased is closely comparable to those estimated in the original business case.
While successfully taking responsibility for its wide range of operational responsibilities over the first three months Natural Resources Wales has also delivered:
- A new customer care centre has received and dealt with over 10,000 enquiries already
- A one stop shop providing a single point of contact and single response to planning applications
- Over 1,500 planning control consultations have been received through the one – stop shop
- UK Accreditation Service (UKAS) accreditation for microbiology analysis at the Llanelli laboratory.
Since I launched Natural Resources Wales on 3 April I have met the Chair and Chief Executive on a monthly basis and am satisfied that their Board and senior team are aware of the issues they need to tackle. I am confident that the organisation is already well on course to be a success.
I know that all Assembly Members will join me in wishing every success to this exciting new Welsh organisation.