John Prescott: Small need not be beautiful - or effective

Last week this paper called for the break-up of the Deputy Prime Minister's vast empire. Here he argues that an integrated approach is best.
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The Independent Online

Last week the Independent on Sunday argued that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions should be broken up into its former constituent parts. For a paper in favour of joined-up government, I am surprised you don't see the advantage of a joined-up department.

Last week the Independent on Sunday argued that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions should be broken up into its former constituent parts. For a paper in favour of joined-up government, I am surprised you don't see the advantage of a joined-up department.

The day before the IoS editorial, I was in The Hague, trying to get agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions at the climate change conference. The countries at that conference failed to reach an agreement. But we got close to it, and we will be trying again.

However, climate change encapsulates better than anything the reason for an integrated DETR, and why I contest the Independent on Sunday's contention that it should be broken up. The climate change programme that I published just before going to The Hague will cut our greenhouse gas emissions below the target we agreed at Kyoto.

To be able to do that we need a good transport policy. We need more energy-efficient homes and businesses. We need a planning system that reduces the need to travel. We need new communities such as the ones we are creating in Greenwich and Allerton Bywater, which set new standards of sustainability and energy-efficiency. All of these are delivered more effectively if they are co-ordinated by a unified department.

All these policies underpin the Urban and Rural White Papers that I have recently published, pointing the way to a sustainable future for town and country alike. With those White Papers and our climate change programme we have put in the footings. Now we need to deliver change in a unified way.

This is not the first time environment and transport have been brought together. Tony Crosland first proposed it in the Sixties, and Ted Heath introduced it in the Seventies, before the department was split up again. But the reasons for creating my department in 1997 were even stronger than they were 30 years ago. As we become more interdependent, and see more clearly the effect of one action on another related area, the more the argument for integration grows. Organisations with a wide range of different functions can have a complementary fit. Smaller is not necessarily more beautiful, or more effective.

And if you look at our achievements over the past three-and-a-half years we have an excellent track record. We've put together a raft of measures to implement our agenda right across the range of the department's responsibilities, set out in nearly 50 White and Green papers - a massive programme by any standards. We've already taken 12 Bills through Parliament.

From 1998-99 to 2003-04 we will have almost doubled our spending on our main programmes to £16.4bn a year. Local authority funding is up by £9bn over the same period.

We've established nine regional development agencies to ensure the whole country benefits from continued economic growth. We have provided London with a Mayor and a city-wide government.

We've tackled thorny issues such as sorting out the Channel Tunnel rail link and the Jubilee line, both of which were a shambles which we inherited from our predecessors. We've led the world in raising awareness of global warming, and achieved a diplomatic triumph at Kyoto. The thing about last month's talks in The Hague was not that the talks stumbled at the last minute but just how near we came to international agreement to implement Kyoto. That makes me even more deter- mined to keep working for agreement. It was agreed at last week's summit between Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac that all efforts should be made between Britain, France, Germany and other countries at this week's summit in Nice to see if we can find extra time to reconsider and perhaps improve the package. That work is now going on.

We've set out in our 10- Year Plan - the most far-reaching vision for decades - to transform and modernise our transport infrastructure, which is backed up by £180bn of investment.

And, most recently in our Urban and Rural White Papers, we've published integrated plans showing how our visions for improving the quality of life in town and countryside can be realised.

That's not all. The Treasury has changed its rules to help our policies. Local authority airports can borrow on a commercial basis, outside public expenditure controls. Revenues from road-user charging will be hypothecated and ring-fenced for transport - which is a first. And we are now able to set up local authority housing companies, supported by a massive investment in the improvement of our housing stock.

And we will continue to work for a better Britain. Shortly, we will launch our local transport plans. They will provide better transport, help the environment, and be delivered by local government - again an example of an integrated department at work.

Good government is all about balancing competing demands. Within the DETR, we have that balance. In my department, officials with responsibility for roads, rail, regions, the environment, planning, and construction all have a forum to meet, discuss, air differences and share similarities. These are the real advantages that flow from having integrated the two departments. Not necessarily good newspaper headlines; but good government.

The Government can be proud of its record. Delivering a good quality of life based on sustainable communities is at the heart of it. That means delivering better housing, better public transport, a better planning system, better schools and hospitals, green areas for leisure, less crime and a cleaner environment. In our three- and-a-half years we have already achieved a lot, but there is a lot more to do. And my department is working alongside other government departments to improve the quality of life for everyone.