Select Committee on Environmental Audit Fourth Report



"Talking about sustainable development is not enough. We have to know what it is, to see how our policies are working on the ground. We must hold ourselves to account—as a government but also as a country...All this depends on devising new ways of assessing how we are doing."

 Tony Blair, Prime Minister

A better quality of life—A Strategy for Sustainable Development for the UK

 May 1999

1. In May 1999, the Government unveiled fifteen headline indicators as a new way of assessing whether the UK is on track to meet the aspirations set out in its national sustainable development strategy.[1]

2. These headline indicators (denoted by H1-H15) are a subset of the national core set of 150 indicators (A1-U7). The core set tend to relate to key international or national commitments or targets, or are generally recommended for use in international reporting. The headline indicators are intended to be overarching "state of the nation" indicators describing key policy objectives.[2] The indicators are "owned" by the Government as a whole although particular departments and agencies have particular responsibility for the data behind them.[3]

3. The headline indicators provide what the Government has termed a "quality of life barometer" measuring "people's everyday concerns" such as health, jobs, air quality, traffic, housing, educational achievement, wildlife and economic prosperity.[4] The Rt Hon. John Prescott MP was Secretary of State for Environment, Transport and the Regions when the headline indicators were launched for consultation. He made it clear that he wanted them to become just as useful and familiar to the public and policy-makers as well-established economic indicators for inflation and employment and reported as regularly in the media.[5] He heralded the indicators as demonstrating that the Government were committed to a new way of thinking which put "environmental, social and economic concerns alongside each other at the heart of decision-making".[6]

4. The Government is committed to reporting annually against each of the headline indicators, and to accounting for the action that it has taken, and proposes to take, in priority areas. Each indicator is given a "traffic light" marking: red (significant change in the wrong direction), amber (no significant change), or green (a significant change in the right direction). Assessments are given in two categories: "change since 1990"[7] and "change since the strategy".[8] Where a trend is unacceptable, the Government is firmly committed "to adjusting policies accordingly and looking to others to join it in taking action".[9]

5. The Government published its first annual report on the headline indicators in January 2001[10] and the second in March 2002[11]. We took oral evidence from the Environment Minister, the Rt Hon. Michael Meacher MP on the March 2002 report. Our own report is based on this evidence and a written submission from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). We have concentrated our examination on the headline indicators, rather than the full set of 150. We have not sought to undertake a comprehensive review of progress on each indicator or related policies but rather to assess the overall reporting mechanism. This year we chose to focus on the more typical "environmental" indicators such as traffic, waste and climate change.

6. DEFRA has published an updated (June 2002) Quality of Life Barometer leaflet since we took evidence from Mr Meacher. This summarises the current position for the headline indicators. We are pleased to note that this version of the barometer incorporates a number of presentational changes which the Committee proposed in its oral evidence session with Mr Meacher. We commend the Government for this action and these changes are considered in the body of our report.

7. We are grateful to Paul Bolton of the House of Commons Library for his advice on the analysis of the statistics behind the indicators.

The indicator system

8. The development of the indicators and the related reporting process is outlined in Annex 1. When the Government launched its initial consultation on the form which the indicators should take, it set out the following criteria which a good indicator should satisfy. They should be:

—scientifically sound;

—technically robust;

—easily understood;

—sensitive to the change that it is intended to represent;

—measurable, and

—capable of being updated regularly.

Significantly, the Government also stated that "ideally, we also need indicators which we can use now to report on progress, which means information must be available already, or can readily be collected".[12] We have borne these criteria in mind when considering the latest annual report on the indicators.

The 2001 barometer

9. The latest annual report on the sustainable development indicators was published in March 2002 and covers the 2001 calendar year ( January 2001-December 2001). The 2002 report presents the 2001 barometer.[13]

The Government's assessment

10. The report gives ten "green light" assessments out of a possible seventeen (two of the fifteen indicators are split). All three indicators relating to the economic element of the barometer (economic output, investment and employment) were marked green. However, the social element displayed a more mixed picture with improvements recorded in education standards and a fall in non-violent crime, but a rise in violent crime, no change in health, and no comparable data for housing "since the Strategy" (the trend since 1990 shows no change). The environmental indicators showed the least positive trends with only four out of the eight indicators showing significant change in the direction of the desired objective.

11. The table in Annex 2 compares the latest assessments with the 2000 barometer. The Government reports a positive movement in the climate change indicator—from amber to green, and a red trend for air quality has been reversed. However, violent crime remains a red, health, road traffic and land use indicators still show "no significant change" and the numbers of farmland birds continue to fall.

  12. Mr Meacher hailed the annual report for 2001 as showing "unequivocally that as a country we are turning words into action, with ten of the fifteen headline indicators showing significant positive change since the launch of the UK Strategy".[14] He also highlighted that improvements were being made across all three elements of sustainable development (social, economic and environmental)— a key test of progress although he also added that while "there have been improvements in some areas he would not claim that everything was now on the right track".[15]

13. The 2001 Quality of Life barometer shows improvements in some areas but there remain others, assessed as "reds", where performance is unsatisfactory. In these cases the Government is committed to adjusting policies accordingly. We expect the Government to act on this commitment with alacrity and vigour.

14. We support the Government's indicator system and practice of annual reporting against these indicators and acknowledges the UK's international lead in this area. The publication of the underpinning indicator data as it becomes available throughout the year is an excellent practice because it facilitates analysis by others. Coupled with the information provided in the annual report, this raw data enables individuals, the media and other interested organisations to judge for themselves how far along the sustainable track the UK has progressed.

Data analysis

15. The data underpinning the headline indicators is predominantly from long-running time series collected by the Government Statistical Service (GSS) or by environmental regulatory bodies such as the Environment Agency as part of National Statistics.[16] In line with the Government's statistical code, data on the headline indicators and the supporting 150 indicators is published as it becomes available but the "traffic light" assessment is made only once a year when all the relevant data is brought together in the annual report.

16. The data is analysed by Government statisticians within DEFRA in consultation with the Departments responsible for the data and the relevant policy areas. The traffic light assessments which show the latest progress (ie "change since Strategy") are made on the basis of this analysis and are subject to Ministerial approval before publication.[17]

17. When the Government published the baseline data for the indicators in December 1999 it stated "In future, decisions on policies and priorities will benefit from an objective analysis of the recent trends and current position for each headline indicator. The assessment needs to look at both whether the headline indicators are moving "in the right direction over time" and "whether a satisfactory level has been reached". The report acknowledged that determining whether a satisfactory level had been reached required a more subjective judgement.[18]

18. The subjective nature of this judgement is not made explicit in the 2001 report. The reader is presented with some key trends in conjunction with the traffic light assessment and left to guess at the judgement leap between them. In particular, the report, and previous supporting documents relating to the indicator,[19] do not state what constitutes "significant" in terms of moving away or towards the desired objective. We can see no evidence that a particular statistical rule is being applied but if this is the case it should be made clear.

19. Statistics are open to a variety of interpretations. The traffic light markings have an even greater element of subjectivity. The judgement linking the data presented and the "traffic light" assessment awarded is not explicit. We recommend that in future each headline indicator assessment be accompanied by a short justification of that marking and that future reports state clearly what constitutes "significant change" in awarding the assessments.

20. Mr Meacher acknowledged that there was a "degree of subjectivity" in deciding whether an indicator should be marked as red, amber or green and that it was very difficult "to decide, in a logical and utterly rational way".[20] However, he was confident that the Government was marking itself fairly and not over-generously and that there was no need for an independent body to award the traffic light assessments to avoid a conflict of interests. He was keen to stress that the GSS was "an independent branch of does belong to Government...but it is not an area where Ministers interfere, and if they tried to interfere they would not succeed".[21]

21. We note that at European level there is a clearer distinction between the assessors and the assessed in relation to indicators. For example, the European Environment Agency,[22] in conjunction with Eurostat,[23] provides annual indicator assessments of progress on environmental aspects of sustainable development for the Commission.[24] These bodies will also have a key role in making future assessments relating to the indicators supporting the EU Sustainable Development Strategy.[25]

22. In the UK, the guarantee of independence is less obvious. This lays the Government's assessments open to claims of partiality, in the absence of any third party validation. Such validation has been employed in other Government reports—for example the annual greening operations reports of the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions included validation statements by independent consultants.[26] Mr Meacher cited the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) itself as a body which could hold the Government to account on the indicators. He felt that we "made it difficult for the Government to be generous to itself" as it was aware that we would insist that such decisions would have to be justified.[27] We hope so. The amendments to the presentation of the barometer since our meeting with Mr Meacher certainly indicate this to be the case.

23. We agree that we have our part to play in holding the Government to account in this area. However, it is not our place, nor possible for us, to provide the thorough, professional and regular auditing that is required to "check" the indicator assessments. This is partly because we do not have the resources and partly because it is not our role to undertake such detailed analysis for a specific issue on a routine basis. Although, this work would be possible if the Government agreed to the establishment of an Environmental Auditor General within the National Audit Office (NAO) as we have previously recommended.[28]

24. The Government also looks to the Sustainable Development Commission to offer advice on how the indicators can be improved.[29] The indicators are core to a number of the Commission's objectives relating to the review of UK progress on sustainable development and the identification of unsustainable trends.[30] The Commission has not conducted any particular studies on the indicators since it was officially launched by the Prime Minister in October 2000. However, a study was conducted by one of its precursors, the Round Table on Sustainable Development.[31]

25. Third party validation of the Government's "traffic light" indicator assessments is necessary to neutralise unfounded claims of partiality which could themselves undermine the credibility of the indicators. Such validation could be achieved by the use of independent consultants. Alternatively, the Government's annual report on the headline indicators could include a statement from the Sustainable Development Commission outlining how far it agreed with the Government's assessments.

Media Coverage

26. The launch of the 2001 barometer and related DEFRA press release[32] led to some unfortunate media coverage which did little to advance the Government's cause in entrenching the headline indicators in the public psyche as clear and trusted signals of the UK's progress towards the Government's sustainable development goals.

27. The DEFRA press release relating to the barometer opened with the assertion that "Life in Britain is getting a lot better though there is room for improvement in some areas..."[33] At the launch of the annual report and barometer findings, Mr Meacher was understandably reluctant to sign-up to the simplified sound bite that "Life in Britain is a lot better..." based on the mixed picture offered by the 2001 barometer. Some of the press presented this as Mr Meacher dissenting from DEFRA's "upbeat" assessment of the latest barometer findings.[34] Some went further to suggest that Mr Meacher would not sign up to Downing Street's gloss on the DEFRA press release.[35] This undermined the credibility of the barometer.

28. The media coverage also somewhat muddied the distinction between the 2001 barometer (based on the Government's assessment of statistical trends) and the 2001 Survey of Public Attitudes towards the Environment and Quality of Life (based on people's own opinions). This confusion partly stemmed from DEFRA's own press release for the barometer which also highlighted elements of the Public Attitudes Survey. The latter showed that four out of five people regard their "quality of life" as fairly or very good—a finding which the Government was obviously keen to convey to the media.

29. The indicator reporting mechanism is still in its infancy and at this early stage it is particularly important that the core messages of the annual report are presented as clearly and carefully as possible to establish the profile of the indicators. We recommend that DEFRA's Communications Strategy for the 2003 report on the headline indicators reviews media coverage of the previous annual reports and considers how future presentation can minimise past pitfalls.

Specific Indicators

30. In the following pages we consider some of the headline indicators in detail. We have concentrated on the environmental indicators and those where we have found particular cause for concern. These are: waste, transport and climate change.

31. We have not commented on the other environmental indicators—air quality, water quality or wildlife as these are either displaying positive trends (air and water quality) or the Government has acknowledged unacceptable trends and is committed to putting in place policies to counteract them (wildlife).[36]

Waste (H15)

32. Waste is arguably second only to climate change in terms of the UK's environmental challenges. It is also an issue that has significant resonance with the public as it affects daily lives.

33. The Government's overall objective for waste is to "move away from disposal of waste towards waste reduction, reuse, recycling and recovery".[37] Using our resources more efficiently is a key requirement if the UK is to move further towards sustainable development. Thus, waste arisings and management is one of the fifteen headline indicators (H15) and progress is measured in terms of total "waste arisings and management" including waste from households, industry and commerce.

34. At present there is insufficient comparable data for the waste headline indicator. Thus, no traffic light assessment for the "since the Strategy" period is provided in the 2001 report. DEFRA and the Environmental Agency are currently considering plans for a survey of industrial and commercial waste, likely to be in 2002/3, which will allow a full update of the indicator[38] but not until 2003/4. The barometer will therefore record "no data" for the next three years. This omission may be an accurate reflection of the statistical situation but it gives the public no idea of the present situation relating to this important area of concern and certainly not the "at a glance" barometer that the headline indicators should provide. However, a glance at the trend since 1990, marked as red, would indicate that all is not as it should be.

35. The Government is certainly in no doubt that waste trends are heading resolutely in the wrong direction and that new policies are required, hence the organisation of the "Waste Summit" earlier this year and the commissioning of a report on waste from the Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU), to be published later this summer. Mr Meacher was keen to reassure us that the lack of data provision was not an attempt by the Government to mask the poor trends in waste arisings and management. He told us "Let me make this absolutely clear, waste is a problem area, it is a red area...". [39] We agree.

36. The waste data comes from a variety of surveys undertaken by a range of organisations including DEFRA, DTLR and the devolved administrations. DEFRA told us that the frequency of collection reflects the likely degree of change from year to year and that it was important to establish a balance between meeting policy, planning and other reporting needs and the costs and burdens to respondents of collecting the data. Complete data for the headline indicator does exist for 1997/98 but as yet there is no comparator against which to judge recent trends. At present, industrial and commercial waste is only measured every 5 years; Mr Meacher acknowledged that the Government should consider whether that should become more frequent.[40] We agree.

37. Conversely, information on municipal waste[41] is available annually from a survey of local authorities.[42] It is estimated that there were 28.2 million tonnes of municipal waste in 2000/01 in England—roughly 15% of the 170-210 million tonnes of total UK waste arisings. Only 21% of municipal waste had some sort of value recovered from it in 2000/01 (ie by recycling, composting or energy from waste) and only 11.2% of the household waste was recycled in this period.[43] This is a far cry from the Government's targets to recover value from 40% of municipal waste and to recycle or compost 25% of household waste by 2005.[44]

38. We agree that total waste arisings should form the basis of the headline waste indicator. However, we are concerned that due to the lack of regular data, the waste headline indicator in the annual report will record "no comparable data" for the next three years and even after that, new data is only likely to become available every 2-3 years depending on the future requirements of proposed EU regulations on Waste Statistics. The Government's own Waste Strategy is only due to be reviewed every five years.[45] In this case, a presentation of the latest information which is available would seem appropriate with a clear explanation that this is necessary due to the lack of complete data relating to total waste arisings.

39. There is recent data available for the municipal waste stream. It may only represent a small proportion of the waste challenge, and not tell the whole waste story, but it has particular resonance with the public and is to be included as one of the indicators to support the EU Sustainable Development Strategy.[46] We considered whether municipal waste/all waste streams might be a useful split for the indicator. Household waste is only a component of the municipal waste data which is collected annually—household sources made up around 89% of the municipal waste stream in 2000/01—and therefore the municipal waste figures actually represent a greater component of total waste arisings. However, household waste is already a core indicator (A5) and therefore a household waste/all waste streams split is logical. Either split would allow up-to-date waste information to feature regularly on the quality of life barometer without compromising the "statistical purity" of the time series data for the headline indicator.

40. Mr Meacher acknowledged that it would be possible to have "a double indicator" splitting household and commercial waste.[47] There is a precedent for such a split as both the crime and wildlife indicators have been split to present the data more helpfully. Mr Meacher undertook to look at the possibility of a split waste indicator in the light of our discussions.[48] We note that the updated, June 2002 barometer includes a newly split indicator which awards a "traffic light" assessment for household waste (red) and all waste streams (no comparable data). We welcome Mr Meacher's action in response to our concerns . This will make recent trends in waste arisings clearer to the public. However, in future, the public may actually find the split confusing when municipal waste rather than household waste is reported as an indicator at EU level. The Government should consider how it will guard against this situation.

Transport (H11)

41. Road traffic is one of the fastest growing contributors to greenhouse gas emissions which cause climate change. It contributes to local air pollution which has a public health impact. In recent decades, traffic growth has been closely associated with the underlying rate of economic growth and traffic congestion itself has an economic cost. These environmental, social and economic impacts secure road traffic's inclusion as one of the headline indicators, H11. This is measured in terms of vehicle miles per year.

42. Mr Meacher confirmed that the headline indicator had been set up to respond to a decline in the rate of growth, not an overall reduction in vehicle miles. Even with the measures included in the Government's ten year transport plan,[49] traffic growth is expected to increase by 17% by 2010.[50] However, most people reading the report or glancing at the headline "barometer" will assume that the indicator shows whether road traffic is increasing or not. Many will bring to mind Mr Prescott's widely reported assertion,[51] which he now disclaims,[52] that in 1997 that the Government would have failed if car use had not gone down within five years. In the foreword to the Integrated Transport White Paper, Mr Prescott stated "We have had to make hard choices on how to combat congestion and pollution while persuading people to use their cars a little less - and public transport a little more".[53]

43. The 2001 annual report on the headline indicators assesses the transport indicator as no change (amber) - both since 1990 and since the Strategy. Mr Meacher claimed that this was a fair assessment because the rate of traffic growth was sharply reducing[54] —a significant change but one which could not be presented as either a success or a failure.[55] Road traffic has increased by 134% since 1970, 14% since 1990 and 4% since the Strategy in 1999. Road traffic increased by 0.7% in 2000 (adjusted to account for the fuel protest), significantly less than in previous times of strong economic growth[56] whilst provisional figures for 2000-1 show that traffic has increased by 1.2%.[57]

44. If the traffic indicator were awarded a "green light" this would not indicate an absolute reduction in vehicle miles but a slower rate of growth. The report does not conceal this vital distinction but nor is it explicit in the presentation of this indicator. It should be. This potential for confusion underlines the need to clearly set out objectives against indicators.

45. The policy objective which is linked to the headline transport indicator is "to improve choice in transport; improve access to education, jobs, leisure and services; and reduce the need to travel".[58] It makes no mention of reducing traffic growth and the Government has declined to set a national road traffic reduction target for England and Wales. The targets which the Government uses to assess its performance against it's ten year transport plan, have been adapted to reduce the adverse impacts of traffic rather than traffic levels themselves (in England and Wales). The Government has identified the two most important indicators of the adverse impacts of traffic to be congestion and pollution.[59] However, the House of Commons Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee recently criticised the Government for not setting a target related to traffic levels or traffic growth whilst maintaining a target for reducing congestion. That Committee concluded that as a result, the ten year plan failed to take account of the impact of greater traffic on quality of life, network reliability, and safety.[60]

46. The rate of traffic growth is an appropriate indicator for the overall progress of Government transport policy. The Government expects the package of measures in the 10 year transport plan to reduce traffic growth, although this is not an explicit aim, therefore performance can be judged against this indicator. However, the lack of specific Government targets relating to traffic growth or traffic levels does not give us confidence that the transport headline indicator forms the intended feedback necessary to inform policy decisions. The Government should explain why it is content to use the rate of traffic growth as a headline indicator but is unwilling to have any specific targets relating to traffic levels or traffic growth.

Climate change (H9)

47. The climate change headline indicator measures the whole basket of greenhouse gases.[61] The 2001 barometer gives the indicator a "green" for both the trend displayed since 1990 and the Strategy. This is a fair assessment—emissions of the "basket" of six greenhouse gases have fallen by 13% between the 1990 baseline and 2000. The UK's Kyoto greenhouse gas target is to achieve a 12% reduction below 1990 levels by 2008-2012 so the UK has already exceeded this target and the Government expects its climate change programme[62] to achieve a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 23% below 1990 levels by 2010.

48. In 1999, UK emissions of greenhouse gases fell by 6.4%—the largest yearly fall since 1990.[63] DEFRA's latest data shows that the decrease in greenhouse gases has levelled off,[64] while carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas) emissions actually increased in both 2000 and 2001.[65] We highlighted this increase in our session with Mr Meacher.[66] who argued that the increased emissions were a result of the rise in oil and in particular gas prices, which may have caused a temporary switch-back in the electricity market to increased coal burn. He was doubtful that it would last.[67]

49. The 2001 report explains that "year to year fluctuations in the individual indicators—in the right and wrong directions—are to be expected, even when the long term trend is acceptable".[68] The worrying "blip" in the latest trends in greenhouse gas emissions is worthy of note but is not acknowledged and explained in the text accompanying H9 in the annual report. It should be. However, we are pleased to see that the recent increase in carbon dioxide emissions (2000-1) is acknowledged in the updated June 2002 barometer.[69]

50. The simple green light for this indicator in the absence of an explanation in the headline indicator summary has the potential to lead to confusion over meaning and scepticism over objectivity. We accept that short-term fluctuations in trends are to be expected and should not be allowed to skew the "traffic light" assessments of long-term indicators. They should, however, be acknowledged and explained in the report.

Geographical Coverage

51. The indicators have been designed to cover the major issues facing the UK. Only nine of the fifteen headline indicators however are actually based on UK data. Three use data relating the Great Britain and a further three use data from England or England and Wales. DEFRA argue that this is because "in some cases data or long-term trends are not available or not comparable between all constituent countries". Mr Meacher agreed with us that it would be "much better" if the data behind each indicator reflected performance over the same geographical area.[70] This was clearly the original aim. The 1998 consultation on the indicators, Sustainability Counts, states "The coverage will need to be extended in due course to the whole of the United Kingdom if [the indicators] are to be adopted as part of the definitive set of indicators.[71] We recommend that the Government clarify how it is seeking to achieve a uniform geographic basis across all the headline indicators.

52. DEFRA sought to reassure us that the traffic light assessments for 2001 would remain largely unchanged even if all of the headline indicators had been based on UK-wide data, arguing that in all cases, trends would predominantly be affected by factors seen in the constituent countries already covered by the indicator and would not be significantly affected by the relatively small proportion of the population or number of dwellings not reflected in the existing date.[72] We are, however, not at all reassured. Environmental standards, such as air quality, or renewable electricity generation can vary greatly between localities. The fact that environmental issues and sustainable development aims are a devolved matter confirms this and may lead to greater variations in the future.

53. The Scottish Executive and National Assembly for Wales recently published their own sets of indicators and the Northern Ireland Executive is consulting on its set.[73] Mr Steve Hall, a statistician from the Environment Protection Statistics and Information Management department at DEFRA, confirmed that DEFRA was liaising with the devolved administrations and that "they were very much looking to the UK indicators as a model to provide consistency across the nation".[74] Table 1, included in DEFRA's memorandum to the Committee provides helpful comparisons of the indicator sets developed by each country.[75] The devolved administrations cannot be required to evaluate or assess their sustainable development indicators in the same way as the UK Government. However, there is mutual benefit from doing so. We encourage the UK Government to continue to work collaboratively with the devolved administrations in developing comparable indicator reporting systems. We believe that in the absence of a standardised UK view, any summary assessments of the indicators from the devolved administrations should be included as annexes in future UK annual review reports.


54. The Government's overall "ten out of fifteen" (66.6 per cent) score is somewhat selective. Two of the ten positive scores (crime and wildlife) are subdivided and give mixed signals. This leaves eight. Of these, five are in the economic and social category. We have not commented on these though we will do so in future. Of the three in the environmental area, one is climate change and, as indicated above (paras 44 and 45), there are some worrying signals here. One could just as easily present the 2001 assessments as showing that only two of the seven environmental indicators (28.6 per cent) are showing clear progress, the rest (71.4 per cent) being to some degree unsatisfactory.

55. The quality of life barometer is the Government's key tool to engage the public with the sustainable development indicators. The data therefore needs to be as clear and complete as possible within good statistical practice. Data gaps in the headline "barometer" are not conducive to providing the public with indicators which they can understand and trust or the "at a glance" assessment of progress which the Government hopes will generate as much interest as the economic indicators. Where data is unavailable for a headline indicator in a particular year we agree that this should be marked as "incomparable data". However we recommend that, in such cases, the Government should consider providing an additional "proxy" traffic light assessment which indicates the Government's "best guess" at whether the indicator is on a sustainable track.

56. The Government must ensure that appropriate data is collected. Given that the 15 headline indicators were established in 1999, we are surprised and disappointed that there is still insufficient data in some areas to provide a complete picture.

57. We support the Government's system of sustainable development indicators and the related reporting mechanism—in particular the "quality of life barometer" which can be a powerful communication tool and one which we wish to see used to its full potential. However, we have observed some worrying absences of data (particularly in relation to waste) and weaknesses in presentation of the barometer (e.g. the confusing transport indicator and lack of information relating to short term trends) which threaten to undermine its impact and credibility. The system would be more robust if the indicator assessments were subject to third party review.

58. Our examination of the 2001 Quality of Life barometer leaves us with the impression that we are moving, albeit rather sluggishly, along the sustainable development track but not equally across all elements of the sustainable development (economic, social and environmental). The barometer clearly shows the environmental element of sustainable development to be the "Cinderella" of the three with little indication of how this situation is being tackled. The Government needs to demonstrate strongly its commitment to take action if trends are heading in the wrong direction so that we all can see evidence that the Government is managing and not just measuring.

1   A better quality of life-A Strategy for Sustainable Development for the UK, DETR, May 1999. Back

2   Quality of life counts: Indicators for a strategy for sustainable development in the United Kingdom: a baseline assessment, DETR, December 1999, para 2.13. Back

3   Q100-101. Annex 3 sets out the data responsibilities for each department in relation to each headline indicator. Back

4   DETR Press Release 991, Prescott launches first ever quality of life barometer, November 1998. Back

5   IbidBack

6   IbidBack

7   Extends the baseline data presented in Quality of Life Counts, using the latest available data.  Back

8   Progress from the position of the available data at the time of the strategy in 1999, most of which related to 1-2 years before the Strategy. Back

9   Cm 4345, A better quality of life: A strategy for sustainable development for the UK, DETR, May 1999, para 3.7. Back

10   Achieving a better quality of life: Review of progress towards sustainable development - Government annual report 2000, DETR, January 2001. Back

11   Achieving a better quality of life: Review of progress towards sustainable development-Government annual report 2001,DEFRA, March 2002. Back

12   Sustainability Counts, DETR, November 1998, para 5.1. Back

13   The first annual report on the indicators covered the period from the Sustainable Development Strategy (May 1999) to the end of 2000. DEFRA expects to publish the next report in the early months of 2003 (covering the calendar year 2002). See Ev20, para 6. Back

14   DEFRA News Release 98/02, UK quality of life barometer rises-Meacher, 13 March 2002. Back

15   Ev19, para 3. Back

16   Ev19, para 4. National Statistics was launched in June 2000 to provide a focus for the work of the Government Statistical Service and the Office of National Statistics. This work is overseen by the National Statistician and the Chairman of the Statistics Commission. Ministerial responsibility for National Statistics lies with the Chancellor but the day to day responsibility is delegated to the Economic Secretary to the Treasury. Back

17   Ev19, para 4. Back

18   Quality of life counts, Indicators for a strategy for sustainable development for the United Kingdom: a baseline assessment, DETR, December 1999, paras 3.6-3.8. Back

19   For example, Quality of life counts-Indicators for a strategy for sustainable development for the United Kingdom: a baseline assessment, DETR, December 1999. Back

20   Q7. Back

21   Q96. Back

22   The European Environment Agency was established by the EU in 1990 (operational in 1994) to provide Community institutions and Member States with the objective, reliable and comparable information to frame and implement sound and effective environmental policies. The Agency aims to support sustainable development and to help achieve significant and measurable improvement in Europe''s environment through the provision of timely, targeted, relevant and reliable information to policy-making agents and the public. The EEA is the hub of the European environment information and observation network (EIONET), a network of some 600 bodies across Europe through which it both collects and disseminates environment-related data and information. Back

23   Eurostat is the Statistical Office of the European Communities. It consolidates data provided by Member States and thereby seeks to supply comparable statistical information at European level. Eurostat's key role is to supply statistics to the Commission and other European institutions so that they can define, implement and analyse Community policies. Back

24   For example, see the Environmental Signals series and annual Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM) report. Back

25   Com (2001) 264 final, A Sustainable Europe for a Better World: A European Union Strategy for Sustainable Development, 15 May 2001. Back

26   See Greening Operations: Annual Report (1998/99), DETR, 28 January 2000. Back

27   Q79. Back

28   First Report of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (Session 2000-01), Environmental Audit: The First Parliament, HC 67-I, para 146. The NAO already audits the Budget assumptions and in future will be auditing the data systems which underpin individual Government's reporting of their performance against Public Service Agreements. Back

29   Quality of life counts - Indicators for a strategy for sustainable development for the United Kingdom: a baseline assessment, December 1999, para 1.14. Back

30   The Sustainable Development Commission's (SCD) objectives include: a)reviewing how far sustainable development is being achieved in the UK in all relevant fields, and identifying any relevant processes or policies which may be undermining this; b) identifying important unsustainable trends which will not be reversed on the basis of current or planned action, and recommending action to reverse the trends. Back

31   However, one of its precursors, the UK Round Table on Sustainable Development reported on the indicator system as set out in Quality of Life Counts in June 2000 and highlighted particular areas which it suggested the new Commission needed to keep under review. See Indicators of Sustainable Development, UK Round Table on Sustainable Development, 22 June 2000. Back

32   DEFRA News Release 98/02, UK quality of life barometer rises-Meacher, 13 March 2002. Back

33   Ibid. Back

34   For example, The Times, We're all happier now, says Labour-or are we? 14 March 2002. Back

35   Daily Mail, Life's better under Labour? That's rubbish says Meacher, 14 March 2002. Back

36   See Q 27-29. The Government acknowledges that intensive farming practices are likely to be the main reason for the decline in farmland and woodland birds over recent decades. Mr Meacher told us that the Government was seeking to reverse these practices to restore these bird populations to previous levels. Back

37   Quality of life counts: Indicators for a strategy for sustainable development for the United Kingdom: a baseline assessment, The Government Statistical Service, December 1999. Back

38   Ev20, para 8. Back

39   Q41. Back

40   Q49. Back

41   Municipal waste includes household waste and commercial waste collected by local authorities. Household waste includes waste from civic amenity sites, recycling schemes and street sweeping. Back

42   DEFRA News Release (Statistical Release) 148/02, Municipal Waste Management Statistics 2000/01, 16 April 2002. Back

43   Ibid. Note these figures are England only. Back

44   Waste Strategy 2000: England and Wales, DETR, May 2000.  Back

45   Ev20, para 8. Back

46   Q121. Back

47   Q60. Back

48   Q60. Back

49   Transport 2010-The 10 Year Plan, DETR, 20 July 2000. Back

50   Transport 2010: Background Analysis, DETR, July 2000, Fig 13. Back

51   For example, The Guardian reported that Mr Prescott made this claim at a conference at the Royal Geographical Society on 6 June 1997. This pledge was reiterated in a parliamentary exchange with Tom Brake MP in 1998. See HC Hansard c 1071 20 October 1998. Back

52   John Prescott, You can't drive motorists off the road. You can drive them to their senses, The Independent on Sunday, 9 June 2002. Back

53   A new deal for transport: Better for Everyone, DETR, 20 July 1998. Back

54   Q4. Back

55   Q16. Back

56   Achieving a better quality of life: Review of progress towards sustainable development, Government Annual Report 2001, DEFRA, March 2002, para 3.47. Back

57   IbidBack

58   Quality of Life Counts-Indicators for a strategy for sustainable development for the United Kingdom: a baseline assessment, DETR, December 1999, p 39. Back

59   Tackling Congestion and Pollution: The Government's first report under the Road Traffic Reduction (National Targets) Act 1998, DETR, January 2000. Back

60   Session 2001-02, Eighth report of the House of Commons Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee, 10 Year Plan for Transport, HC 558-I, para 30. Back

61   Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride. Back

62   Climate Change: The UK Programme, DETR, November 2000. Back

63   Achieving a better quality of life: Review of progress towards sustainable development - Government annual report 2002, DEFRA, March 2002, p 68. Back

64   According to DEFRA's underlying data available at, UK emissions of the basket of greenhouse gases fell by 5.2 % in the period 1998/9 but increased by 0.2 % in the period 1999/2000.  Back

65   According to DEFRA's underlying data available at, carbon dioxide emissions rose by 0.9 % in the period 1999/2000 and by 1.5% in the period 2000/2001. Back

66   QQ 81-85. Back

67   Q81. Back

68   Achieving a better quality of life: Review of progress towards sustainable development, Government Annual Report 2001, DEFRA, March 2002, para 3.11. Back

69   Paras 3.43-3.44. Back

70   Q62. Back

71   Sustainability Counts, DETR, November 1998, para 9.1. Back

72   Ev18, para 1 c). Back

73   See Sustainable Development Indicators for Wales 2002 - Statistical Bulletin SB 36/2002, March 2002, and Meeting the Needs ... Priorities, Actions and Targets for Sustainable Development in Scotland, Paper 2002/14, Scottish Executive, April 2002. Back

74   Q65. Back

75   Ev22. Back

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