Select Committee on Environmental Audit Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from CAG Consultants

  This submission focuses on the third question considered by the Committee:

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.


  CAG is an independent consultancy providing a research, consultancy, training and policy analysis service. We work principally for the public sector in the fields of sustainable development, stakeholder involvement, and regeneration.

  In the 1990s CAG researched and drafted a series of landmark publications for the then Local Government Management Board (now IDeA) on the meaning of sustainable development and its application to local government. This culminated in CAG preparing the first draft of Sustainable Local Communities for the 21st Century (DETR/LGMB/LGA) which was published to coincide with a national conference to launch the Prime Minister's call for all local authorities to adopt Local Agenda 21 Strategies by the year 2000.

  CAG also drafted the Local Government Officers' Sustainability Training Pack for WWFUK and the joint local authority associations of England, Scotland and Wales. We are currently managing a joint project to update the Pack with new modules on:

    —  Community Strategies and Local Strategic Partnerships.

    —  Best Value.

    —  New Council Structures.

  Joan Bennett is a director of CAG and has 10 years experience as a sustainable development consultant with the company. She specialises in mainstreaming sustainable development within local government.

  Joan is currently managing CAG's project for the Audit Commission's Best Value Inspection Service. CAG (with the Institute of Local Government Studies at the University of Birmingham—Inlogov) are drafting guidance for inspectors on how to judge the sustainable development performance of local authorities. Joan previously managed CAG and Inlogov's survey of local authority experience of integrating sustainable development into Best Value for the Local Government Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA). She also prepared the original IDeA / Local Government Association guidance on this subject published in 1998. Joan has run numerous training courses for local authorities on Best Value and sustainable development.

To What Extent is Local Government's Progress on Sustainable Development being Monitored

  Chapter 28 of Agenda 21 identified local government as a vital contributor to sustainable development. In the years following the 1992 Earth Summit the then Local Government Management Board (LGMB) and Local Government Associations did much to promote Agenda 21 in local government. By the end of the decade the majority of authorities had prepared Local Agenda 21 Strategies and had appointed dedicated staff to co-ordinate sustainable development activities.

  Initially the majority of sustainable development co-ordinators tended to operate outside mainstream local government activity, but towards the end of the 1990s there was an increasing push to "mainstream" sustainable development within local government. "Mainstreaming" implies that all local government activities take full account of sustainable development objectives.

  A new local government performance regime known as Best Value was piloted in local government in the late 1990s and fully implemented in 2000. Best Value introduced independent inspection of all local government functions by the Audit Commission's Best Value Inspection Service (BVIS). It therefore offered the first opportunity to systematically check the extent to which Local Agenda 21 strategies were being implemented by local authorities.

  The English and Welsh Circulars on Best Value (see appendix) specified that local authorities should consider sustainable development within Best Value. This gave the BVIS a clear remit to inspect sustainable development performance. The BVIS are charged to assess the extent to which local authorities are implementing national policies and their own corporate policies. Therefore, even without the mention of sustainable development within the circulars, the BVIS should be considering sustainable development within their inspections.

  The CAG/Inlogov 2001 survey for the IDeA concluded that there was very patchy coverage of sustainable development by Best Value inspectors. This is understandable. In the early stages of Best Value inspectors had much to absorb. Those that were unfamiliar with sustainable development principles understandably missed key sustainability issues.

  In the Autumn of 2001 the BVIS decided to prepare new advice for inspectors on sustainable development. CAG and Inlogov were commissioned to assist the BVIS to draft the advice. 3 guides were drafted:

  1.  Best Value and Sustainable Development—Contextual Guidance—Background briefing on sustainable development, how it is relevant to local government, and the connection with Best Value.

  2.  Best Value and Sustainable Development—Inspection Principles—Advice on how to consider sustainable development within any inspection.

  3.  Quality of Life—Inspection Guidance and Judgement Criteria—Advice on how to inspect cross-cutting reviews of sustainable development.

  Since these guides were commissioned, the Local Government White Paper[2] has introduced radical changes to the Best Value process. Many of the White Paper proposals [Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPAs), more thematic Best Value reviews and negotiated Review Programmes—jointly agreed between BVIS and the local authority] hold out great potential for monitoring the sustainable development performance of local government. But this potential will not be achieved without the following:

  1.  Assessment of local authorities' sustainable development performance as part of the Comprehensive Performance Assessment. (Sustainable development was not mentioned as a consideration for CPAs in the White Paper. The Audit Commission is currently preparing a methodology for CPAs.)

  2.  Rolling programme of Best Value reviews to judge local authorities' performance against their sustainable development objectives.

  3.  Inspector training on sustainable development. (Based on the guides already prepared.)

  4.  Annual summary by the BVIS of how well local government is progressing sustainable development objectives.

February 2002

2   Strong Local Leadership-Quality Public Services, DTLR January 2002. Back

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