Select Committee on Environmental Audit Eighth Special Report

Appendix 2: Sustainable Development Commission response

The Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) welcomes the Environmental Audit Committee's (EAC) report—Making Government Operations More Sustainable: a progress report. Such reviews are a vital part of holding government to account and ensuring that the commitments towards sustainable development are met.

Several recommendations and conclusions are made in the EAC's report. Three of these pertain to the SDC; these are:

19. Considering the significant nature of the Government's response to this year's SDiG report, we agree that the Sustainable Development Commission is playing a significant role in stimulating Government to improve its performance. (Paragraph 57)

20. At the same time, we recommend that the SDC reviews whether its presentation of performance in the annual SDiG reports could be made more straightforward, including—where necessary—being more critical. (Paragraph 58)

21. We recommend that the SDC looks again at its practice of simply reporting the data as given to it by departments. Currently, where it has reservations about the figures, it only expresses these in separate commentary sections. For example, the SDC's press release on the recent SDiG report stated that "overall carbon emissions from offices have fallen by 4% since 1999", despite the fact that this figure had been discredited elsewhere in the report. (Paragraph 59)

The SDC also welcomes these comments and will consider the EAC's recommendations in all future reporting and other work programmes.

In particular, the SDC is pleased that the Committee has commented on our role stimulating improvements. The SDC will continue to push government for further and bigger improvements through our watchdog function. At the same time, we also strive to offer support and advice through our advisory and capability building functions. Striking a balance between these roles in our role as government's "critical friend" is essential to our success.

We will therefore continue to support and advise the new Centre of Expertise in Sustainable Procurement (CESP) in the Office of Government Commerce (OGC). Over the past 6 months, we have been working closely with CESP and the rest of government to improve the process for reporting on operations and procurement. For example, we are currently working toward handing back ownership of the data to government for the next reporting. This was begun this year by using the OGC's e-PIMS database as the platform for data collection. It is important that responsibility for ensuring the data is as accurate as possible rests with government.

As a part of this transition we will be developing the understanding of roles with CESP and with Defra over the coming months. Ultimately the aim for all organisations involved is to improve the quality of data reporting and in turn further improve performance.

The SDC will also work closely with the EAC to ensure the Committee is fully up to date with the development around this agenda and other initiatives. Specifically, we are currently discussing reporting options for this year's Sustainable Development in Government (SDiG) report internally. However, once we have developed our thoughts we write to the Committee outlining our intentions and seek feedback.

October 2008

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