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Matrix of power Thursday, 30 September, 1999, 19:34 GMT 20:34 UK
The Superministry
John Prescott is intent on improving the quality of life
In episode four of the Radio 4 programme Matrix of Power presenter Dinah Lammiman looks at the challenges faced by John Prescott's massive Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions and its attempts at greening government.

The question that'll decide the success or failure of John Prescott's superministry is just how far is New Labour prepared to intervene in economic growth to achieve a greener Britain?

The very quality of life is what the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is about, says John Prescott. According to the words of its own mission statement, the DETR aims to ''promote sustainable development, offer everyone the opportunity of a decent home and promote well-being," to quote just three of its momentous tasks.

It's a tall order for any department with just one seat at the Cabinet table.

To turn John Prescott's ideas into action means greening the whole government, including Number 10.

The DETR has put in some of the foundations - legislation to prevent and control pollution, targets to reduce road traffic and Regional Development Agencies to manage local economic growth. But that's only the beginning of the bigger vision.

Delivering on quality of life

So far, there's scant evidence that the ''quality of life'' is at the heart of New Labour's agenda.

In the last Queen's Speech seven out of 27 government bills were from the DETR - more than any other deptartment. But just four have gone through. We're still waiting on the other three and the much-vaunted Transport Bill.

In a government that says it's all about delivery, John Prescott has so far been handicapped. His record on transport legislation is still suffering from the low priority Labour gave it at the start.

Greening government

Even when a transport bill is introduced in the next Queen's Speech John Prescott's battle will continue. Just around the corner are issues, like housing, that will further test his power to convince New Labour to wholeheartedly adopt the greening of Britain.

He's said that 60% of four million new homes will be built on recycled brownfield sites. Visionary architect and John Prescott fan, Richard Rogers, acknowledges this target won't be met unless there's radical action across government.

Critics say the current legislative indigestion is a result of the Number 10 Policy Unit's reluctance to go along with John Prescott's project.

According to Anthony Seldon, co-author of The Powers behind the Prime Minister, under Tony Blair the unit has more "sustained power" than ever before. He believes the resentment we've already witnessed between the centre and departments will increase in the next 18 months.

Unlike many of his Cabinet colleagues, John Prescott has the political weight to stand up to those who worry his green policies could lose votes at the next election. But unless he's allowed to deliver on these, tensions could well reach boiling point between now and the election.

Episode five of Matrix of Power, the Foreign Office, will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 7 October at 2030 BST

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