Headlines: June 19th, 1997

The Government has signalled a further move to addressing issues which span administrative boundaries with the announcement of the new Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions. Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said: “The challenge is to search for solutions which combine social and environmental improvements while promoting economic growth, employment and regional competitiveness. I want care for the environment to be at the heart of all the Government’s policies.”An early task facing the new Department is to draw up a comprehensive integrated transport policy to address the issues of congestion and pollution. It is more than two decades since this was attempted and Mr Prescott said: “For too long, there has been an uncoordinated approach to the provision of transport infrastructure and services. Transport decisions need to be integrated with the wider planning system. My aim is to produce a White Paper early next year which will provide a sustainable framework for decision-making during the remainder of this parliament and the years beyond that. Critically it will set interim objectives for the remainder of this Parliament, against which we may be judged.”

The new Department is headed by Andrew Turnbull, Permanent Secretary of the former Department of Environment. This merger, like any change of such magnitude, will be a managerial challenge. A working group has been set up to examine the issues and to find ways of dealing with the core activities to achieve cohesion. The cultural dimension of the merger may prove the most difficult to address. Melding different cultures, such as exist in the two department, is likely to be painful and prolonged. The problem extends beyond the departments, because different professional groups will have to question their assumptions and re-think ‘ the way we do things around here’.