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Chamber and committees

Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee

Meeting date: Tuesday, October 25, 2022


Environmental Standards Scotland

The Convener

We will now take evidence on Environmental Standards Scotland’s strategic plan. ESS has a statutory duty to lay its strategic plan before the Parliament, after which the Parliament must consider whether to approve it. The plan was laid on 30 September. The Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee has been designated as the lead committee to scrutinise the plan, with a view to making a short report to the whole Parliament afterwards.

I welcome back Mark Roberts, the chief executive of ESS. He is joined by Jim Martin, who is the chair, and Neil Langhorn, who is the head of strategy and analysis.

I will start the questioning with a gentle opener. I would imagine that my question is for Jim Martin and that Mark Roberts will probably provide support. Has setting up ESS been an easy process? Will you provide a brief update on how that has gone and the current position?

Jim Martin (Environmental Standards Scotland)

Thank you for giving me the easy one.

We managed to vest on 1 October, only nine months after the UK’s exit from the EU. Since then, we have been gradually building up the organisation while performing as many of our functions as possible. As Mark Roberts mentioned under the previous item, we are still in the process of recruiting a full complement of staff. In fact, our senior management team was only fully in place four months ago, when Mark joined as chief executive. That was the last appointment to be made to the team.

During this year, we have also managed to carry out a couple of significant investigations—one on acoustic deterrent devices and one on air quality. While building the organisation, we have been trying hard to function as an organisation. However, you have not seen us at our best yet. Once we are fully established, we can move forward.

A significant part of our work so far has been to prepare the strategic plan. That has been a godsend, because it has enabled us to interact with as many organisations and people as possible to get views about how we should go forward. You will see in the strategic plan that, underpinning most of our thinking on vision, mission and values is the approach of being transparent and open and trying hard to listen to people. This year, we have been able to listen to people about where we as an organisation should go. I am keen to hear the committee’s view on where you think the strategic plan is taking us.

Mark Roberts said earlier that we managed to persuade the Scottish Government to increase our budget, for which we are very grateful. I thought that he was very gentle in his earlier response to you. Once we have actually seen our business operating for at least a year from now and we are a year into our strategic plan, we will have a better idea of the resources that are required to make the organisation truly effective. I place it on the record that we are happy with what we have been given and are pleased with the flexibility that the Scottish Government has given us, but we will not know for at least another year what resources we require.

We have had terrific co-operation so far from the bodies that I regard as being under our jurisdiction, but we have not fallen out with them about anything yet. So far, so good. I am pleased that we have managed to build good relationships with the Office for Environmental Protection in England, the interim environmental protection assessor for Wales and the Climate Change Committee.

We have made a lot of progress, but there is still a lot to be done. We are narrowly coming out of the set-up stage and beginning to move into the effective stage. That is where we are.

The Convener

We will come back to the budget—I am sure that committee members will want to ask about that.

Mark, things have got better since you joined, or are getting better. Have you noticed any themes emerging since you took up your role?

Mark Roberts

As Jim Martin said, the key theme is the transition from getting established as an organisation, and feeling almost like a start-up, to becoming an albeit young but more established public sector organisation.

I pay huge tribute to the transition team, which established ESS and started its work. Neil Langhorn was a key part of that. A new organisation was set up from scratch in a very short period and during the pandemic. That has been really significant. As Jim said, we are now moving out of that phase and into a business as usual role. It is key that we build our profile and our stakeholders’ understanding of our role, which is new. I have been keen to focus on establishing our profile and getting our name and role known in the wider community. That builds on work that has been going on for the past 12 months.

The key theme that I would identify is our transition to being a more established organisation, but that remains a work in progress. We touched on some of the more specific environmental themes during the earlier evidence session. Climate change in the broadest sense, biodiversity and the interactions between those two are critical. Under the previous agenda item, we also discussed the question of sewage impacts on the aquatic environment. As I said in response to a question from Liam Kerr, that is one of our future priorities. There is significant public attention on that at the moment, and it is one of our priorities.

For me, the dominant theme is the scale and complexity of the issues around climate change and biodiversity. Neil Langhorn may want to add to that.

Have you found it easy to get other agencies to see your organisation as part of the solution?

Neil Langhorn (Environmental Standards Scotland)

In general, yes. Things have been very positive to date. Our engagement with the likes of SEPA, NatureScot, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and others has been positive. They have all taken the approach that we are an organisation that can help to improve the system, which is what everyone wants.

As Jim Martin said, we have not fallen out with anyone yet. We have had good co-operation, particularly with regard to the data that we need in order to carry out our role. The baseline evidence reviews that we prepare rely on getting a lot of data from other organisations. There were no issues with that and we are looking forward to starting to explore some of those areas with them as we move forward.

That all sounds very positive, which is good news.

Monica Lennon has some questions.

Monica Lennon

Good morning, panel. Given that you will seek to resolve issues through informal agreement wherever possible, how will ESS ensure transparency on the outcome of remedial action? Under what circumstances would you withhold information on remedial action?

Would Neil Langhorn like to answer that first, or is it better to go to Mark Roberts?

Mark Roberts

I will start, and then pass over to Neil.

One of our values, as set out in the strategic plan, is to be transparent, and we are absolutely committed to that. If we receive representation from someone and we are able to secure informal resolution—as we did in our work on acoustic deterrent devices earlier in the year, when we achieved informal resolution with Marine Scotland—we will publish that information and explain what happened on our website. We have done that. All our representations are documented on our website, with information on what is going on with them. There is a brief summary of exactly what happened, what the issue was and what we did about it, as well as a more detailed report beneath that. We will continue to operate in that way.

With regard to the broader range of inquiries, we are in the process of collecting data and we will make that available. We get a significantly large number of inquiries across a range of environmental issues. Some of those are not appropriate for us to deal with, as they relate to individual cases, and some are not within our remit, but colleagues work hard to work with individuals to direct them to whoever may be the best person to respond to their inquiry, whether that is a local authority complaints process or the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman. Again, we spend quite a lot of time working with individual members of the public in order to do that.

Neil Langhorn

The issue of transparency, in particular around informal resolution, was a bit of a theme that came through as part of our consultation on our strategic plan. It was always our intention to be transparent about what conclusion we came to and what action was being taken, but the feedback has helped to reinforce that approach.

As Mark Roberts said, the acoustic deterrent devices case, which we have already concluded, is an example of how we will publish details of what has been agreed and how, in our opinion, the issue has been resolved. Our intention is that in future, in all cases in which we reach informal resolution, we will publish full details. As Mark said, we are looking at how we make available further details on the range of issues that are brought to us, whether that involves full representation or whether we are referring somebody on.

Monica Lennon

In a moment, I will ask Neil Langhorn about escalation, and in what kind of situation ESS would resort to using the formal powers, but I first want to go back to you, Mark. You described a situation in which you are getting inquiries that are not really appropriate for ESS. Has there been any analysis of why that is? Are people ending up on the ESS website because they have been wrongly signposted, perhaps by MSPs? Alternatively, is it due to frustration at their end when they are not getting what they want from other bodies and regulators?

Mark Roberts

We have not done any formal analysis of that. As ESS is new, people are probably not yet clear about what our remit is. We have been updating our website to try to make that clear, and providing information, including a video that explains how people can come to us if they have a representation to make.

People perhaps see that we are about environmental standards and think that they can come to us with a specific case. Unfortunately, however, we are not able to look at or investigate specific cases; that is not part of our remit under the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Act 2021, which governs the operation of ESS.

What we can do is gather intelligence from individual cases. If we start to see patterns and multiple cases in the same area, that will feed into our monitoring and analysis work, which will perhaps lead us to conclude that there is something that merits further investigation. We capture that information, but we will not investigate individual cases if they come to us.

It is helpful to get that on the record—thank you.

I go back to Neil Langhorn on the question of escalation to using those formal powers. Can you explain that a bit more?

Neil Langhorn

We will consider that case by case. As set out in the strategic plan, one of our principles is that we will always try to resolve things informally if that is possible but, as we consider the case that is before us, we will consider the urgency of the need to act and the nature of the regulatory issue that we need to address. We can always consider whether moving more quickly to one of the more formal powers is appropriate for that case.


That was the case with the air quality report—we concluded that we needed to move to a formal improvement report—whereas we were able to resolve the ADD case informally. For each case, we will look at whether we can agree a resolution informally, but we might feel that we are not able to do that, or there might be an urgency or seriousness that requires us to move more directly to our formal powers, and we will judge that case by case.

Monica Lennon

I know that colleagues want to pick up on the air quality report.

I have a final question. One of the statutory criteria for ESS is to state how you will

“identify and recommend measures to improve the effectiveness of environmental law”.

I have opened a dialogue with the Scottish Government around the campaign to criminalise ecocide. A lot is happening in dozens if not hundreds of countries, at Government and Parliament level, around the world. Will ESS monitor that and perhaps make recommendations to parliamentarians, the Government and others?

Mark Roberts

At the moment, that is not within the group of our analytical priorities that I mentioned. However, potentially, we could look at it, if it became a priority. If there was scope to enhance environmental law by building that in, we would certainly assess the potential. As yet, it is not high on our list of priorities, but it is interesting to hear about, and I would be interested in discussing it outside the meeting.

It is a global campaign that is quickly building momentum. A meeting is scheduled with the Scottish Government. I will be happy to discuss the topic on another occasion.

I think that Liam Kerr has supplementary questions on the first part of that.

Liam Kerr

Good morning to the panel. ESS issued its air quality report towards the end of last month, as Neil Langhorn and Jim Martin mentioned. Your investigation found evidence of

“a continued failure in some areas of Scotland”

to meet legal limits for nitrogen dioxide, and

“weaknesses in ... current operational and governance arrangements”.

The report made six recommendations. Neil Langhorn mentioned that an improvement plan needs to be prepared. My understanding is that that is a requirement under the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Act 2021. To go back to Monica Lennon’s line of questioning, what actual power do you as an organisation have to enforce the recommendations and to demand from the Government timelines for compliance?

Mark Roberts

The way in which the accountability will work is that the Government’s improvement plan must come back to the Parliament and, I guess, potentially to this committee for scrutiny, to see whether it meets the requirements of the recommendations. We do not have the powers to enforce those recommendations—that is not in the continuity act. However, if there was on-going and further failure to comply—in this case, with nitrogen dioxide limits—we could take further action in the future.

I very much hope that it does not come to that. Certainly, the feedback that we have had from the Scottish Government is that it is supportive of the recommendations, and you heard that in the earlier evidence session from SEPA. We look forward to hearing from and working with the Government on how it intends to implement those recommendations. However, I stress that the Government’s plan has to come back to the Parliament for approval.

Liam Kerr

So the improvement plan must come back to the Parliament. I have read the report’s key findings and, in my subjective view, they were pretty damning. For example, they suggest that the Scottish Government is not using powers that are available to it and that the overall governance frameworks are complex. Before the improvement plan is prepared—one can anticipate that that will take time—is there any requirement on the Scottish Government to respond to your report?

Mark Roberts

The only requirement is through the requirement to produce an improvement plan.

Thank you.

Natalie Don

Good morning to the panel. We have touched on this issue briefly, and the strategic plan sets out some detail on it, but I am looking for further clarification on your triage process and how ESS will prioritise work and identify which issues should be investigated. That question goes first to Neil Langhorn.

Neil Langhorn

That depends on how the issue initially comes to us. For a representation that comes to us, we set out in the strategic plan a set of criteria that we will consider that against. Those criteria are focused on the seriousness of the issue, its potential impact, the risk of that impact and the urgency with which action needs to be taken. We will also consider whether other bodies, such as a scrutiny body or another regulator, are already taking or could take action. Through that triage process, we will decide whether we urgently need to address the issue and move to investigation.

In the months to date, we have found that, when representations come to us, a bit of work is usually involved in getting under the skin of the issue and understanding the exact situation before we can take that decision. It sometimes takes a bit of work in the pre-investigation stage to consider a representation and make a decision, but we aim to do that as quickly as possible.

Issues also come through our monitoring analysis. In effect, we self-generate those issues because we want to look at them. The air quality issue was an example of that. There were clearly issues of compliance, so we took an early decision to take action on that; it was not in response to a specific representation. We have set out similar criteria that we will judge things against, in order to consider the significance, the risk, the likely impact and whether other actors could take action.

That links back to one of our other principles in the plan, which is about adding value and making sure that we focus on areas where we can have the biggest impact. For both types of issues, there will be that triaging, in which we judge things against the criteria that we set out and decide whether we should take the matter forward.

To follow on from that, are there any issues that you consider to be outside the scope of investigation by ESS?

Neil Langhorn

There might be, but I cannot think of one off the top of my head. The issue has to be about compliance with the law, about the effectiveness of the law and about environmental law, as defined by the continuity act, but that gives us a very broad remit and a very broad suite of issues that we can consider. As long as an issue meets those broad criteria, we anticipate that we would be able to look into it.

Mark Roberts

To supplement that answer, and as I said in response to Monica Lennon, the criteria would exclude looking at individual decisions by public authorities. For example, looking at an individual planning decision would not be in our remit, but we would absolutely gather that information and, if it formed a broader picture, that might give us intelligence that something more systemic was going on.

That is helpful; thank you.

How will you approach monitoring the Scottish Government’s implementation of international obligations and its use of the keeping pace power? What do you see as the key risks to your ability to do that?

Mark Roberts

I will start off and then perhaps pass that question to Neil. Historically, the overwhelming majority of environmental legislation has been derived from the EU, and the Scottish Government has committed to keeping pace with EU environmental and other legislation, wherever it is appropriate for Scotland. I think the real challenge is the scale of that.

There is a significant body of European Union legislation in this area. From the perspective of the Scottish Government, being able to keep pace with that is a significant challenge, and, from the point of view of ESS, that represents a significant amount of monitoring work at the European level and the Scottish Government level. We are actively thinking about how we can best do that at the moment—that is a live discussion that we are having. We have established good connections in the EU and Brussels. One of our board members, Paul McAleavey, works for the European Commission and provides a valuable insight into what is going on at the European level.

How we decide whether to report on progress on keeping pace is one of the issues that we are still thinking through. Neil Langhorn might want to say more about that. We have always envisaged that we will look at how individual pieces of work relate to the European context. We would want to be able to do that, whether the issue is biodiversity, which we have talked about, or any of the other environmental issues that are priorities for us.

Neil Langhorn

I will back up that last point. The arrangements around how we carry out that work involve our working at two levels. The issue of keeping pace is a cross-cutting theme for all the issues that we are considering, whether they relate to monitoring or to a specific investigation. For each issue, we will always consider whether there is a keeping pace angle and whether there are movements at a European level to change the legislation. We have a monitoring and analysis role that involves keeping a handle on the context of what we are working on with regard to what is changing in general and what changes might be planned in EU or international law that we need to be aware of.

Fiona Hyslop

You have said that the issue is big and difficult and that you will investigate things on a case-by-case basis. However, bearing in mind that you have a key responsibility in that regard, which is enshrined in law, and that this committee has a responsibility to scrutinise what you are doing, I would like to press you a little bit more. How are you going to approach the issue? How many members of staff are involved in the work? What international connections have you made? I recognise that you have a board member with a connection to European institutions, but you really need institution-to-institution connections. All of that is key to your role.

I would like Mark Roberts to answer that question first, and then I will bring in Jim Martin to talk about how, in his position, he will push those things. I am sure that he will want to support Mark.

Mark Roberts

In terms of international connections and institutional connections, we are a member of Scotland Europa, which provides us with insight into policy and legislative development that is going on in Brussels. We have established links with the European Environment Agency, and we are actively developing a policy that will allow us to get international advice on international environmental policy and law. At the moment, we are working out how best we can access that advice, so that we can get international and European perspectives from outside Scotland. We are currently considering establishing a sub-committee or an advisory panel of our board that will be primarily focused on the keeping pace responsibility that we have, which demonstrates the attention and focus that we are applying to the issue. I was slightly hesitant to talk about that, as I believe it has not yet been discussed by the board. Jim Martin might want to say a little bit more about it.

Jim Martin

At our last meeting, the board was clear that we need to show leadership in this area. We agreed to set up a sub-committee of the board that will deal with the keeping pace responsibility and to consider developments in other international areas. We have only one other sub-committee of our board, which is the audit and risk committee, so that shows the priority that we are giving it.


We have also set out that the executive team is required to assess whether there is a keeping pace element in every area of the strategic plan. We have empowered the team to build relationships with institutions in Europe and with the people within those institutions, because that is how we can find out what is going on.

We are aware that there is a huge volume of legislation at the European level—never mind anywhere else in the world—that we need to keep track of. We will have a budget that will enable us to have around 24 people involved, so part of Neil Langhorn’s task is to work out how, within his monitoring and analysis and horizon scanning areas, he can get the staff in place to enable us to do that or whether we need to have external input. We are looking at getting external input from those with expertise on the sub-committee advisory panel—not only board members—so that they can advise us on developments, where we should get information and how we can access information from countries that are not in the European Union, so that Scotland can take the best decisions in order not only to keep pace with the EU, but to become an international leader.

Thank you. I am more reassured by that second set of answers.

Mark Ruskell

Obviously, as an organisation, you have a range of different approaches to your work, and you spoke about working more at the informal resolution end of things by trying to resolve issues first. However, you also have the ability to mount a judicial review—or to attempt to—in some cases, so how do you maintain flexibility in staff and budget? An informal resolution would presumably require a lot less staff resource and a lower budget than mounting what could be a lengthy judicial review, and it is obviously difficult to predict when you might need to use each of those tools.

What are your general thoughts about budgeting, and how did you come to make the request that you made to the Scottish Government? Also, how does your organisation maintain the flexibility and teeth that are required to take whatever action you need to take as circumstances dictate?

Mark Roberts

Those are really interesting and challenging questions for me, as the chief executive. I could not agree more that, when you are a demand-led organisation, being able to be appropriately responsive to that demand is very difficult.

You used the example of a major judicial review. I imagine that that would take up a significant amount of our resources, but I envisage that going down that route would be very unusual and rare—I certainly hope that that would be the case. However, if it did happen, it would be challenging. In the immediate term, we would have to prioritise very quickly, and the same would apply if we had a significant spike in the number of representations that we receive from members of the public or organisations. Going back to a previous part of the conversation, we would have to triage those representations a bit more assertively if we had a significant number of them.

If that became a longer-term pattern, we would say to the Scottish Government, “This looks like a trend. We anticipate that it will continue, and we are going to need additional resources.” We would not be shy about going to the Scottish Government to say that. As you know, Mr Ruskell, part of the legislation requires us to say, in our annual report to the Parliament, whether we have sufficient resources to do the job that we need to do, and we will not hesitate to say if we feel that we need more resources because of demand.

That demand could come not only from external sources, but from the internal work that Neil Langhorn’s team are doing on monitoring environmental data and performance. It may also be self-generated, therefore, but we would justify and explain where that came from.

Jim Martin wants to come in.

Jim Martin

I want to get something off my chest. Judicial review in Scotland is ridiculously expensive. We need to look at that at some point, because it is prohibitive for an individual to take a case to judicial review. Most of our public bodies have scope for individuals to do that, but they cannot afford to do so.

In an organisation like ESS, we have to be prudent in our budgeting, and we have to budget for the possibility that we may get there at least once. However, Government, the committee and others have to understand that, if it happened two or three times, we would, in order to be effective, need to spend that cash. I hope, therefore, that there would not, at any point in the future, be a barrier to our being able to access cash should that mean that we were going over our budget.

I am pleased to have got that off my chest, convener. Thank you.

I am pleased that you have.

We will go back to Mark Ruskell.

Mark Ruskell

I am pleased, too.

I go back to my point on accountability and openness to the public. You have consulted on your initial plan and we have heard some of the feedback from that. Can you say a little more about how you are going to maintain that openness and accountability in the future?

Mark Roberts

As I said earlier, transparency in what we do is central to how we operate, and we will always strive to put out as much information as possible and make it available to people in a variety of ways.

On engagement, we have an active programme of engagement with a wide range of stakeholders in the non-governmental organisation community—not only the key public bodies such as SEPA and NatureScot, with which we engage very regularly, but the broader suite of relevant public bodies. For example, Transport Scotland is very relevant to the climate change agenda, so we want to engage with it, and we are also engaging with local authorities to explain our role and what we do and do not do. That programme of stakeholder engagement will roll on into the future. As I said in response to Ms Hyslop’s question, we are engaging at the European and international level as well.

With regard to accountability to the Parliament and to this committee, the chair of ESS wrote to the convener’s predecessor earlier in the year to give an update on our work. I hope that we will be able to continue to provide the committee with regular updates on our work, potentially every six months, in order to make our accountability to the Parliament and to this committee real, and so that you have regular sight of what our work is. If that is satisfactory to the committee, I would suggest that we continue with it.

Mark Ruskell

Yes—the relationship between the Parliament and ESS is very important.

I want to ask about the memorandum of understanding that you have with your counterparts in other parts of the UK and how developed that is at present.

Mark Roberts

We have recently completed and signed a memorandum of understanding between ESS and the Office for Environmental Protection, which operates in England and Northern Ireland. In Wales, there is an interim arrangement in place with the interim environmental protection assessor for Wales. That memorandum of understanding sets out how we will potentially collaborate with those organisations in the future.

We are in the process of setting up a three-way meeting between those organisations, which will, we hope, take place next month. Since I joined ESS, I have spoken to the interim assessor for Wales and to my opposite number in the Office for Environmental Protection, and those meetings will become regular.

For the sake of completeness, I note that we are also in the process of developing a memorandum of understanding with the UK Climate Change Committee, with which we will, no doubt, be working closely. I hope that that relationship is as fruitful as the relationship that our opposite numbers elsewhere in the UK have had with the Climate Change Committee.

What do you expect to be on the agenda with your counterpart organisations across the UK?

Mark Roberts

In terms of the stages that we are at, we are all new organisations and one is an interim organisation. We have subtly different remits in terms of our responsibilities and our relationships with Government, so I think that we will talk through some of those broader governance and accountability issues.

We will, no doubt, talk about the specifics of investigations that are going on. As was discussed earlier in the meeting, the OEP currently has a major piece of work on combined sewer overflows in England and Northern Ireland, and we are interested in hearing about that. We will share the work that we have going on in relation to climate change and local authorities, which is a live investigation. No doubt, we will also talk about resources.

The deputy convener has a question.

Fiona Hyslop

What does Environmental Standards Scotland see its relationship with this committee as being? What would you like it to be? How can we work well together to make sure that the key issues that affect Scotland’s environmental standards are addressed? What would an ideal relationship with the committee look like for you?

Jim Martin has indicated that he would like to answer that question. I will then bring in Mark Roberts, if necessary.

Jim Martin

I will answer first, just to make sure that Mark understands the line on that. [Laughter.]

I see our relationship with the committee as being a productive one. I do not see us being an investigative arm of the committee—I need to say that very clearly. Parliament has given us the job of determining what our priorities will be. The committee is clearly a very influential voice, and we will listen very carefully to you, but please do not think that we are a body that you can instruct to investigate. I just wanted to say that out loud.

In relation to what Mark Roberts said about transparency, I hope that we can have discussions with the committee both on individual reports—for example, the air quality report that Mr Kerr raised—and at a strategic level. I hope that the committee will not seek to become an operational overlord for our organisation. In the past, I have found that, with public organisations and committees, the more frequently there is interaction between a body and a committee, the more the committee tends to get drawn into operational areas. For both our sakes, we need to avoid that. However, I think that the committee will be a place where we can come if we are having difficulties, and I hope that we will be a body that you feel you can come to when you have spotted something that we have missed or that you believe is a priority that we should address.

Mark, has Jim laid out the answer sufficiently well that you do not need to add to it, or do you want to add something?

Mark Roberts

I do not think that there is anything that I can add to that.

Fiona, are you happy with that answer?

Yes, indeed. I think that that was a very helpful insight into the perspectives of both the committee and Environmental Standards Scotland. Thank you.

I am happy about that—and thank you, Jim, for saying that you are not an investigative arm of the committee. That is useful to know.

Jackie Dunbar

Good morning, panel. If it is okay with you, convener, I will leave it to you to say who should answer my questions, depending on who indicates, because I cannot see the panel.

What does a high-performing organisation look like to ESS? Do the witnesses believe that it is achievable for ESS to be a high-performing organisation, based on the current staffing levels and given the volume of representations that it is receiving?

I will bring in Mark Roberts, because he partially answered that question before.

Mark Roberts

I think that a high-performing ESS will be an organisation that achieves what we have set out to do in our strategic plan, which is to ensure that we have a system of environmental law that actively protects and, ideally, improves the environment. Ultimately, that is the goal that we want to achieve. If we are able to contribute to that, it will, in part, demonstrate that we are a high-performing organisation.

It is also really important that we are seen by the public to be responsive to their concerns. That public assessment and view of us is important.

I would also like us to operate in a way that means that, whenever possible, as Neil Langhorn described earlier, we work to resolve problems informally. If we need to use our powers, we will do that, as we have already demonstrated with our air quality reports, but, on the whole, we would like to work with and engage with public authorities to improve the system of environmental governance. However, I stress that we will not hesitate to use our powers where we see that as being necessary.


For me, those three strands demonstrate that we are a high-performing organisation. It would be remiss of me, as the accountable officer, not to say that we will do as much work as possible, and to the highest quality possible, within the budget that we have while recognising that we are still trying to work out what the long-term demand for resources will be. We are one year and three months into our existence, and I suspect that the world might look quite different in four to five years.

Jackie Dunbar

The world can look different in a matter of weeks just now, with the way that things are going.

I will ask about measuring your performance. What work have you undertaken to establish the baselines to measure the impact that you have on improving environmental quality and public health?

I am happy for anyone to answer. Mark Roberts is looking at Neil Langhorn.

Mark Roberts

I will start off and then pass to Neil.

That work is also in its infancy. The baseline evidence reviews that we undertook over the past year were the first stage in doing it. We will continue to work on it over the next year, especially within the priority areas that we have identified in the strategic plan. However, it remains work in progress and it will be critical for us to work with the various public authorities that we oversee and scrutinise to understand what data about environmental performance they have. Scotland is fortunate in having very good and publicly accessible environmental information, but there is, no doubt, more that we can access and work with.

Neil, is there anything that you would like to add to that?

Neil Langhorn

Within the strategic plan, we set out a framework for trying to measure our performance. It measures our inputs, our outputs and how those affect long-term environmental outcomes. As Mark Roberts mentioned, we can draw on the baseline evidence reviews as a snapshot of the state of the environment in Scotland at the moment.

The framework that we have set out envisages a long-term outcome indicator, but we will have to do a bit more work to work out exactly how we will achieve that. It is not an easy thing to measure, and the relationship between our work and outcomes is not direct, but we have tried to set out a framework for how we understand that will happen.

That gives us a baseline for our performance as an organisation. We have started to gather data on all the indicators that we set out in the annex to our strategic plan, so we have a baseline for all those and will be able to report on them annually through our annual report.

The Convener

That is the end of our questions. I thank the witnesses for taking part. In particular, I thank Mark Roberts for taking part in both panels. I thank Jim Martin and Neil Langhorn for coming along for this item.

We will produce a short report for the Parliament, which will then consider a motion to approve the strategic plan.

That concludes the public part of our meeting.

11:33 Meeting continued in private until 12:04.