Agri-Environment scheme has learnt lessons from previous schemes

11 Sep 2014 - 9:00am

But some flaws remain with Glastir, says the Auditor General for Wales 

The design and implementation of the Welsh Government’s agri-environment scheme, Glastir, has reflected some of the learning from similar schemes run previously by the Welsh Government. But the scheme still retains some significant flaws. This is the main conclusion of a report published today by the Auditor General for Wales.

Auditor General for Wales, Huw Vaughan Thomas said today:

Glastir has reflected some of the lessons learned from previous agri-environment schemes. However, as shown by my report and the findings of previous reviews of the scheme, the design and administration of Glastir can be improved further. Take up has been much lower than the Welsh Government anticipated and measures to help evaluate the overall success of the scheme have not yet been developed.

The Welsh Government announced plans for the introduction of Glastir in May 2009. Glastir replaced Tir Gofal and several other agri-environment schemes which were run previously by the Welsh Government. By the end of 2015, the Welsh Government currently plans to have made grant payments of £119 million on Glastir, including £65 million of European Union funding.

Today’s report says that the introduction of Glastir has been managed better than the changeover to other agri-environment schemes. In particular, the Welsh Government has prioritised landholders with a Tir Gofal agreement, offering them an uninterrupted transition and fast track entry into Glastir. Glastir is also better targeted and prioritised than previous schemes to help maximise the contribution of the grant funding to key policy objectives and has greatly extended the coverage of agri-environment schemes on common land.

However, the design of Glastir retains some of the flaws of previous schemes and was not informed by a good understanding of the outcomes of those schemes. There remains some risk that Glastir payments will not deliver their intended improvements because landholders do not change their management practices, although this risk is smaller than under previous schemes. The Welsh Government is developing proposals to simplify aspects of the scheme and has recognised that there is scope to better co-ordinate environmental improvements between landholders.

The Welsh Government has also strengthened its arrangements to administer Glastir and there is some evidence of efficiency savings compared with previous schemes. However, improvements to computer systems have cost £1 million more than originally anticipated, resource constraints have hampered the effective implementation of elements of the scheme and the Welsh Government has recognised that its early communication about the scheme was inadequate.

Participation in Glastir has been well below the targets the Welsh Government set for the scheme, some of which were based on unrealistic assumptions. Consequently, the level of expenditure on the scheme has also been significantly less than originally anticipated.

The report makes a number of recommendations to the Welsh Government to improve the management and administration of Glastir on issues including:

  • Ensuring that landowners receiving grant funding commit to making significant changes to their land management practices that directly support the delivery of Glastir objectives.
  • Setting targets for Glastir which are challenging but achievable.
  • Clarifying the scale of improvements it expects Glastir to deliver, by when and how these contribute to wider objectives.
  • Routinely monitoring the costs of administering Glastir.
  • Ensuring a smooth transition to online only applications for Glastir.