MEMORANDUM SUBMITTED BY DEREK OSBORN,
CHAIRMAN OF THE UK ROUND TABLE ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
MONITORING PROGRESS ON THE NEW STRATEGY FOR
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT IN THE UKTHE ROLE OF THE NEW SUSTAINABLE
This memorandum is submitted by Derek Osborn
in his personal capacity. It follows a first discussion of the
new UK Sustainable Development Strategy by the Round Table. It
broadly reflects the views of most of the members who were present,
but it has not been approved in detail by the whole Round Table.
1. The new Strategy for Sustainable Development
was issued in May 1999 as an action strategy intended to guide
the Government's own actions and for which they seek commitment,
engagement and active support by others.
2. The Round Table clearly has a major interest
in this process; and a particular role in monitoring progress
is foreseen for its successor bodythe Sustainable Development
Commissionwhose formation the White Paper announces. The
Round Table therefore intends to continue to give close attention
to the strategy and its implementation in the coming months. In
particular it will be arranging a seminar with DETR and other
interested bodies in September to explore further the role of
the new Commission and its central monitoring task. It also envisages
arranging a further seminar later in the year to discuss the new
set of indicators promised in the Strategy and the way in which
they can be used to monitor and stimulate progress.
3. As requested this memorandum concentrates
particularly on ways of monitoring progress against the strategy,
and the role of the new Commission. Some brief comments on other
aspects of the strategy are set out at Annex A.
4. In general the Round Table finds the
new strategy a valuable overview of sustainable development and
the challenges it represents. We think however that the achievement
of sustainability in the UK will be an even bigger task than the
Strategy suggests, and that it will require determined political
leadership, some difficult policy decisions, and commitment and
action by all parts of society. It will need to be vigorously
followed through if it is to have the impact that it deserves
and bring about the many changes needed.
5. In this context the monitoring of progress,
and the role of the new independent Sustainable Development Commission
will be crucial. The Round Table are impressed by the progress
that has already been made by the Government and others in developing
indicators of sustainability, and in focusing particular attention
on a core set of headline indicators. We believe this set is a
good start, and will be happy to enter a constructive dialogue
with DETR in the autumn based on these indicators.
6. Particular issues which we shall want
to take up include:
(i) The adequacy of the set of indicators
as a representation of sustainability, and consideration of a
few suggestions for modifying or extending the list.
(ii) The possibility of creating indices
aggregating some of the indicators for particular purposes.
(iii) How can targets or desired directions
of change be established where they are missing at present?
(iv) Lessons to be drawn from this autumn's
set of figures and movements in them. Which sectors or areas do
they flag up as particularly requiring attention from a sustainability
point of view?
(v) How can the national figures be disaggregated
geographically by country, region or locality so as to relate
them to regional or local sustainability objectives, and to point
up areas where action is most needed? Similarly what sectoral
disaggregation is possible?
(vi) What international, inter-regional or
inter-locality comparisons can be made, and what lessons drawn?
(vii) How can accountability for the indicators
be established? For instance, could a lead Minister be assigned
to each, with the personal responsibility for initiating and maintaining
the action needed to get it moving in the right direction?
7. Looking further ahead to the Commission,
we welcome the formation of this new body with a particular duty
for monitoring progress and drawing attention to where action
8. Terms of reference will need to be carefully
considered. The Round Table has reviewed its own terms of reference
and those of the Government Panel on Sustainable Development which
are to be subsumed into the new Commission (Annexes B and C).
In thinking about terms of reference for the new Commission the
Round Table considers the following points to be important:
(i) The task of monitoring progress on the
basis of indicators and focusing public and political attention
on areas where things are not moving in the right direction is
a vitally important one and should be the core of the work of
the new Commission;
(ii) The Commission should not have to rely
solely on monitoring indicators supplied by Government, but should
have the right and the capacity to obtain additional information
or analysis it may need to assess progress, in the light of its
own judgement of the key issues for achieving sustainability;
(iii) The Commission should build on the
good work of the Round Table and the Government Panel. It should
be able to conduct reviews and make reports on emerging sustainability
issues, focusing particularly on issues identified as priority
problems by the monitoring assessments, but not confined to those;
(iv) The Commission will need to promote
its messages and reports widely amongst opinion formers and others.
It should seek to influence many other parts of society as well
as government. We doubt whether it should be in the business of
education or direct promotion of sustainability with the general
public, but it should be innovative in style and accessiblity
of publication and in communicating to and through others; and
(v) We believe that sustainability is a vital
national objective, and that the new Commission should continue
to have a UK remit and membership. It will also need to have appropriate
relationships with whatever arrangements are in place in the four
countries, in the regions and in local authorities to deal with
9. A first attempt at draft terms of reference
for the new Commission, building on the above points, is at Annex
10. The Round Table considers that it would
be desirable to establish an appropriate annual cycle of interaction
between the Government's reports on indicators and on sustainability,
the Green Ministers' reports, the Commission's reports and the
work of the Environmental Audit Committee. For example if the
Government reports on indicators each autumn, the Commission might
aim to report on lessons from them soon after, leaving space for
any Environmental Audit Committee report during the spring before
a summer report by the Government on their actions and response
to that year's advice and reports from Commission and Committee.
11. To carry out its functions properly
we believe the Commission will need to be independent of Government
and other bodies, but with easy access to Ministers and Departments
as well as to other public bodies and good connections to industry.
It should report publicly, addressing Government as a whole and
the wider world as well. It will need analytic resources to probe
the Government's figures and perhaps to assemble other material
12. The Commission should be broadly based
with a membership drawn from all parts of the United Kingdom and
the main sectors of society. We do not think it would be practicable
or desirable to try to constitute it as respresentative body (there
are too many potential constitutencies), though it may be desirable
to have some ex officio members, as the Round Table has, to maintain
some essential linkages. Appointments would therefore need to
be made by the Government, though not necessarily all by the same
1 See pp. 18-22. Back
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See p. 23. Back