Natural Resources Wales well-placed to continue delivering intended benefits
But faces significant challenges as it responds to funding pressures and takes on new responsibilities
The adoption of a sound and well-structured approach to establishing the environmental body Natural Resources Wales means it now has a solid platform for continuing to realise the intended benefits of its creation and for tackling the future challenges it will face. This is according to a report released today by the Auditor General for Wales.
The Welsh Government created Natural Resources Wales on 1 April 2013, replacing three legacy bodies – the Countryside Council for Wales, Environment Agency Wales and the Forestry Commission Wales – as well as incorporating certain Welsh Government functions. It is the largest Welsh Government sponsored body with an annual budget for 2015-16 of £187 million and currently employs around 2,000 throughout Wales. The business case for setting up a new body anticipated £158 million worth of benefits over the 10 years to the end of 2022-23 and projected a £92 million net saving over this period taking into account set-up and transition costs.
Today’s report notes that there were some substantial challenges to overcome in the creation and early development of the new body, including a short handover period and differences in the three legacy organisations’ governance arrangements, operating systems and organisational cultures.
During its initial two-year period, Natural Resources Wales maintained business continuity during a period of ongoing organisational change and while also dealing with significant incidents of flooding and tree disease. The report highlights the good progress made by the body to deliver the intended financial savings and other benefits. Having recognised the constraints and limitations of its initial change programme, the body has prioritised a focus on people management and staff and stakeholder engagement as part of a more ambitious transformation programme that it is now taking forward.
While Natural Resources Wales has taken a pro-active approach to dealing with the impact of legislative changes, such as the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act and the Environment (Wales) Bill, there is uncertainty regarding any additional funding to discharge new statutory responsibilities. Coupled with reductions in core Welsh Government funding in 2015-16 and 2016-17 and the need to realise existing savings commitments, Natural Resources Wales is facing significant challenges in medium-term financial and service delivery planning.
In all, the report makes six recommendations for improvement, including:
- that the Welsh Government should provide greater clarity on future funding arrangements and key priorities, given resource pressures;
- that Natural Resources Wales should review its staff and stakeholder engagement activities to better demonstrate their value, effectiveness and alignment to the organisation’s purpose, activities and outcomes; and
- that Natural Resources Wales ensures that its current job evaluation exercise is effective in meeting the future needs of the body.
Auditor General for Wales, Huw Vaughan Thomas said today:
“There are positive lessons to learn for the future from the establishment and early development of Natural Resources Wales, both for the organisation itself and looking ahead to possible local government reorganisation. However, the organisation still faces significant challenges to transform itself for the future. My report emphasises the need for dialogue between Natural Resources Wales, the Welsh Government and other stakeholders, to agree key delivery priorities for the next five years, particularly in the context of funding pressures.”