Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from the Local Government International Bureau (LGIB)

  Considerations for the Committee:

    (a)  How the UK is formulating its own contribution to the World Summit, the nature of this contribution, and the range of stakeholders involved;

    (b)  How the UK is helping to raise awareness of the Summit in other nations and facilitate their contribution to the proceedings; and

    (c)  The extent to which the UK Government has adequately monitored UK progress on sustainable development and the issues mapped out in Agenda 21 since 1992 as part of its preparation for the Summit.


  Mike Ashley was appointed Director of the Local Government International Bureau (LGIB), the European and international arm of the UK Local Government Association (LGA), in January 2002. Previously he was Head of Environment, Fire and Community Safety at the LGA in London.

  In 1986 he became a senior officer with the Association of District Councils, dealing with environmental health, tourism and leisure (1986-89), and later housing, planning, transport, environmental protection and Local Agenda 21 (LA21) (1989-97).

  During that time he actively participated in the preparations for the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro. He was the lead authority association officer in England and Wales involved in the preparations for the UN Habitat II "cities" Summit held in Istanbul in 1996, which he attended. This Summit focussed on urban environmental issues and housing and was of particular relevance to local authorities worldwide.

  Whilst working for the LGA (1997 to 2001), he covered a broad environment portfolio—including preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) at Johannesburg 2002—plus community safety, the fire service and emergency planning.

  Recently, Mike Ashley has returned from attendance at the NewYork Preparatory Committee (Prep Com) for WSSD, held from 28 January to 8 February 2002 which, he attended as part of the UK Government delegation.


  1.1  The UK local government position is formally incorporated in a summary paper, prepared by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI)[3]. This so-called dialogue paper is entitled, Accelerating Sustainable Development: Local Action Moves the World and has been formally submitted to the secretariat of WSSD. It was formally presented at the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom2), held in New York (28 January to 8 February 2002).

  1.2  The contents of this paper are informed by various activities, including an international survey of Local Agenda 21 (LA21) and various workshop and "think tank" events. Overall, visions and goals have been established but now there is a need to proceed from "agenda to action". Much groundbreaking work has been achieved through LA21. The dialogue paper is highly reflective of the UK local government position, particularly the references to governance.

  1.3  The take-up of LA21 in the UK is summarised in the survey commissioned by the Government's Sustainable Development Unit (then located in DETR). This was carried out through the Government Regional Offices in March 2001. The analysis was, therefore, undertaken after the December 2000 deadline for the production of LA21 strategies by all UK local authorities which was set by the Prime Minister in his address to the UN General Assembly Special Session in 1997. The Survey—which was quantitative rather than evaluative—showed a remarkable 93 per cent achievement level.

  1.4  In the UK, governance-related issues, such as the pioneering and development of public participation and techniques and other innovative working alliances, have been successful. This is complemented by many small-scale, discrete projects developed at the local scale, many of which have been environmentally focussed. Evidence for this is substantiated by the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) commissioned research[4] undertaken by WWF, completed by Jane Morris, in March 2001.

  1.5  Undoubtedly, the UK has a wide repertoire of experience—initiatives, projects and approaches—to show-case and is, arguably, a leading light on the world stage. Some summary case study documentation has been published by the LGA, IdeA and other NGOs. This can now be usefully supplemented and developed further in partnership with NGOs, other agencies and the business sector.

  1.6  In the UK the "well-being" and community leadership agenda (Local Government Act 2000), together with the Best Value Agenda (Local Government Act 1999), presents key challenges and opportunities for mainstreaming sustainable development in the UK. These are the key frameworks within which, and through which, sustainable development is to be delivered.


  2.1  The UK local government contribution to awareness raising of the Summit internationally, via LGIB, has been by representation on various committees and networks, including:

    —  International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives;

    —  International Union of Local Authorities;

    —  The Committee of the Regions of the European Union;

    —  The Council of European Municipalities and the Regions;

    —  The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe;

    —  The UN Commission for Sustainable Development; and

    —  Representation on the UK Government Delegation at the Preparatory Committees—(PrepComs) leading up to WSSD at Johannesburg.

  2.2  Activity in the UK has been through representation by the LGIB working closely with the LGA and other agencies, NGO's and Government. LGIB welcomes, and wishes to extend, this effective partnership working and wishes to congratulate the intensive and demanding work undertaken by UNED-UK Forum (now self-styled as Stakeholder Forum for Our Common Future), with very scarce resources.

  2.3  Notably, LGIB has been involved in high profile national conference events to raise awareness of WSSD with Government departments, including DEFRA, DFID and the UNED-UK Forum. The conferences hosted by the British NGOs Overseas (BOND) on 14 January, the UNED-UK Conference held on 22 January, and the jointly run LGIB/LGA conference for local government on 24 January 2002, generated considerable interest and momentum. This is a good platform on which to build. Many useful suggestions from participants will be now actively considered and progressed.

  2.4  LGIB welcomes the lead from DEFRA on WSSD and the Government's establishment of a cross-cabinet committee involving in particular the contribution of DFID, DTI and the FCO.

  2.5  However, given the important role of DTLR in the work of local government through the modernising agenda—Best Value, Community Strategies, Local Strategic Partnerships, and the impact of the Local Government White Paper—greater collaborative working with DTLR would be greatly welcomed. This will be critical to ensure that the practical implementation outcomes from WSSD are not sidelined and that they are integrated into the mainstream working of local government. The links between poverty and environmental degradation and equity must be fully appreciated and appropriately applied in the UK local domestic context, as well as internationally.

  2.6  Additionally, given the importance of education for sustainable development—in both formal and community education—enhanced involvement of DFES would be highly welcomed.

  2.7  LGIB welcomes the forthcoming Communications Strategy for WSSD being prepared by DEFRA and will seek to play an active part in this. There are legitimate opportunities for profiling much of the LGIB's international technical co-operation and partnership projects to the UK audience and beyond.


  3.1  Post the Rio 1992 Summit, a UK National Agenda 21 Steering Committee was set up, to advise and oversee progress at the local level. A Sustainable Development Unit (SDU) was set up in the Local Government Management Board, headed by Tony Hams with Jane Morris as the UK Local Agenda 21 Officer.

  3.2  The positive impact of the SDU unit was considerable in developing and disseminating much-needed practical guidance to local authorities in developing their understanding and practical operationalisation of LA21. It helped to translate Agenda 21 policies, principles and processes, into practical steps for local authorities to adopt and progress. It completed considerable collating, sharing and publication of information. It most significantly supported the development of good practice by networking expertise and experience in sound sustainability and environmental management performance within the UK and further afield.

  3.3  The LA21 Committee was renamed the UK Local Sustainability Group (UKLSG) following the reorganisation of the Local Government Management Board into the Improvement and Development Agency (IdeA). This resulted in the demise of the Local Agenda 21/Sustainable Development Unit.

  3.4  Since the loss of this unit there has been a growing vacuum in the networking and provision of sustainable development advice to local authorities and NGOs and in the general orchestration of sustainable development partnership related activities. This has resulted in the "reinvention of many unnecessary wheels".

  3.5  The LGIB therefore welcomes the UK cross-sectoral and national support for the IDeA to set up a Local Sustainable Development Unit. The proposal for this Unit which has top slice funding agreed allocated for the first year, beginning 1 April 2002, is attracting broader support and potential funding partners. Its work will be highly welcomed by local government and other NGOs, to help take stock of experience, share and disseminate learning, and to help orchestrate activity. The support of DTLR would be highly welcomed in supplementing specific project funding for research and programmatic work.

  3.6  Based on the results of LA21 surveys both national and international—and other independent academic research assessments—implementation of LA21 has been patchy. In the majority of instances, there has been a failure to adopt a truly integrative approach in tackling the economic, social and environmental dimensions. A decade of learning has resulted in greater understanding of sustainable development but this has not been matched by sufficient coordinated action.

  3.7  Monitoring progess on activity at the local level, on Local Agenda 21, has been ad hoc, with many local authorities experiencing data collation and monitoring overload within the Best Value regime. There are however some excellent case studies from which local authorities, and Local Strategic Partnerships could learn and benefit.

  3.8  The LGIB welcomes the Government's lead on the development and reporting of sustainability—quality of life indicators—and the establishment of central and local government working alliances such as the Central Local Government Information Partnership. An extension of national-regional-local alliances as a means of improving dialogue, sharing and developing experience with DTLR would be most welcome.

  3.9  The Local Government White Paper states that LA21 should be subsumed into community strategies. There is a concern in both in local government and the NGO sectors that this LA21 expertise and experience is not being fully harnessed and incorporated into the, often, separate domain of community planning. Sound guidance and case study work on how the transition from LA21 to community strategies is evolving, is widely called for in local government. This will have value nationally and be of interest internationally.

  4.0  In looking forward, there is a key opportunity in the UK to build on the Local Government White Paper so that local government's contribution does support sustainable development. It will be necessary to ensure that the new performance assessment framework and other components in the White Paper support sustainable development and that the performance agenda does not eclipse the governance agenda.

  4.1  Much of the ICLEI dialogue paper strikes a chord with the [UK] Local Government White Paper, specifically Chapter 2: "The value of democratic accountability", paragraph 2.3 and, also, "Leading and Empowering communities"—"Delivering sustainable development", paragraphs 2.8 and 2.9. The key, and often bypassed, sustainable development notions of futurity and globality are clearly articulated in relation to strong community leadership.

  4.2  Again, in relation to the ICLEI local government paper, the UK could take a lead on developing and delivering capacity building programmes for good leadership on governance for sustainability, especially for locally elected members, senior officials and managers both within local government and within Local Strategic Partnerships. This is vital to create the necessary political will to further sustainable development. Government's endorsement and support in this work would be highly welcomed.

  4.3  The critical role of the Audit Commission—and the role of Best Value inspectors—in assessing sustainable development and, exactly how this will be operationalised within the new corporate performance framework, cannot be underestimated.

February 2002

3   Accelerating Sustainable Development: Local Action Moves the World, ICLEI, December 2001. Back

4   Interim report to the UK Local Sustainability Steering Group-Making the transition from LA21 to Community Strategies, Jane Morris, WWF-UK, March 2001. Back

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