Examination of Witnesses (Question Number
20 OCTOBER 2010
Mr Lee, I welcome you to our first session of the Environmental
Audit Select Committee. We've got quite a full programme which
is going to be curtailed because of the comprehensive spending
review, so hopefully you'll bear with us and try to get through
the questions that we wish to ask. Will you introduce your colleagues
very briefly to us?
Andrew Lee: Yes,
of course. Many thanks. I am Andrew Lee, Chief Executive of SDC.
To my left is Shirley Rodrigues, our Head of Policy and Research;
to my right Farooq Ullah and Minas Jacob from the SD and Government
and watchdog side of the organisation.
Thank you very much. We are very concerned about how we track
what the Government is doing in terms of being the greenest Government
ever and the role of what has been the Sustainable Development
Commission. We just wondered first if you could tell us where
you think the Sustainable Development Commission has been most
successful in getting Government to adopt more sustainable practices,
what has helped with that and what are the cost benefits and savings
of that? In a way, what has the value of the way you have operated
Andrew Lee: Of
course. Thank you very much, Chair, it is good to be here. May
I just give a little bit of context to that question? I think,
in coming here, we are very aware that the arrangements for sustainable
development inside Government have been far from perfect, but
they have also been widely admired the world over as a leadera
leading example of best practice. As we go into 2012 and the
world gathers for Rio plus 20 and looks back to the original Rio
Earth Summit, with a focus on governance inside Government and
the economy, a key issue for us, I think, is what will David Cameron
say in that event?
I think in terms of the environment that we've worked
within, Labour started well with this. The Prime Minister was
personally committed originally to setting up the SDC and to sustainable
development, but frankly lost interest and lost momentum and did
not secure the legacy for sustainable development in the way that
has been done with the Climate Change Act. That is something we
wrestle with day-to-day. I think there is a danger now that the
approach to sustainable development that has been instigated could
systematically unravel. It is incredibly important, we think,
in a time of austerity that SD principlessustainable development
principlesare vitally important as you are looking at cutting
public spending and reducing the size of the estate. They are
more important and not less important than in a time of growth.
This is of course about the SDC and what we've
done, and rightly so, but our view is removing the SDC is fine,
provided and only unless what's being put in place is very, very
significantly bettertangibly better. If not, effectively
it is an act of vandalism in the eyes of the world to remove those
structures. We believe that many businesses, NGOs, grass roots
organisations are already way ahead of the Government on doing
this stuff, and they will be deeply sceptical right now of this
language of mainstreaming. So it means nothing unless there are
real, concrete tangible steps. Based on the experiences we've
hadour successes and failureswe think that means
clarity about governance, leadership, strategy, structure; clarity
about mechanisms, performance management, delivery plans, monitoring
and scrutiny; clarity about how Government capability will be
built on this area and how it will engage with business and civil
society. Those things are "must-dos", and if all those
boxes can be ticked then the SDC is a period in history and the
Government will move on to a new period of taking this up a step;
but, if not, the world will be watching.
I think it is very important for the EAC that
you are doing this inquiry and that you need to be confident you
are clear that the Government is going to put in place mechanisms,
structures and processes which are significantly better than what
has gone before, and what has gone before was far from perfect.
Successes and failures: well, successes? We
think that the SDC has helped the Government to transform its
operations and make it more transparent through our watchdog work.
We think that, for every pound invested in that work with us,
the Government has saved at leastat least£15
for every pound invested.
How can you substantiate that?
Andrew Lee: Because
the savings accrued to date per year are in the region of between
£60 million and £66 million a year, and the SDC costs
about £4 million a year. So we think that is good value
for money. We think that has been a success.
Using SD principles to frame and look at some really
tough policy issues like tidal power, nuclear power, the links
between the economy and resource consumption and climate change,
the links between health, place and naturethe second thing
I think we have tried to do very successfully is to open up some
of those tough policies, sometimes at the request of departments.
We have also worked in depth and very closely with some Government
departments and agencies like the Department for Education, the
Department of Health and the NHSI know you are talking
to DH later todayworking hands-on to help them do this
I think those are all successes, but there are also
a lot of barriers. The barriers that we have struggled with in
the work that we've tried to do for Government are: first, ineffective
leadership or inconsistent leadership from the highest level,
which needs to start with the Prime Minister and the Cabinet;
an opt-in approach, which means that departments that want to
do this do it, some very successfully, and others are allowed
to get away with not doing it; the difficulty of silo bustingif
you take a practical example, the links between diet, land use
and climate change; Governments find it very difficult to struggle
with those cross-departmental issues, and that has always been
difficult. Also, no real sanctionI have yet to see a Permanent
Secretary, despite the fact that performance objectives include
a statement of operations, called to account by the Treasury and
No 10 for failing to run a sustainable departmentand less
progress on policy than operations, I think. There has been quite
a lot of progress on operations but the policy areas remain very
Chair: Caroline, do you
want to follow up on that?
Q4 Caroline Nokes:
You mentioned yourself that there had been failures and that the
SDC was far from perfect. Why do you think that there has been
insufficient impact in improving the level of sustainability across
Government and, particularly, how do you think that it could be
extended down to local government and the various tiers thereof,
where there hasn't been very much evidence of much progress?
Andrew Lee: As
I said just now, you can give advice if somebody wants your advice,
so where Government departments, for instance, have asked for
advice or where there are tools and mechanisms already in placetargets,
for exampleto drive more sustainable operations, things
have started to happen. The problem is it's not consistent, so
there is not a sustainable development duty on every part of the
public sector or on every layer of Government. There were sustainability
mechanisms embedded at regional level. That landscape is obviously
completely changing now, so now we've got an emphasis on local
authorities, on local economic partnerships. The question is:
what imperative is there on those LEPs to act in a sustainable
Effectively, I think the SDC has worked with
the tools it's been given. The tools were a good start but not
perfect, and they weren't universally applied. For exampleand
you know I mentioned the legacy unravelling earlierthe
work we did with the Audit Commission over three or four years
was about how to use the comprehensive area assessment to look
at the wider sustainability of an area, not just public service
delivery in the narrow sense. Now that has all gone so, again,
my question is now: what's going to replace that? Nobody is saying
it's perfect. Surely you can devise a better system. You can always
devise a better system, but what's that system going to be? It's
not clear at the moment.
Q5 Caroline Nokes:
You specifically identified barriers. The New Economics Foundation
said that the SDC hadn't been successful in promoting sustainability.
Is that one of your failures?
Andrew Lee: I don't
think it is. I think our success in promoting sustainability is
evidenced by the fact that leading businesses in most industrial
sectors, NGOs, community groups, grass roots organisations and
transition towns, are all doing this stuff and using this language,
and political leaders can be comfortable with using itI've
heard the Mayor of Vancouver and the Mayor of Bordeaux, the ex-Prime
Minister of France, talking about sustainable developmentvery
powerfully. I think to say it hasn't been promoted successfully
is a bit of an excuse.
You can't promote sustainable development just as
a phrase, like a brand. I think what we've tried to do is promote
what it stands for. It stands for tackling health through prevention
of illness; it stands for accessible local transport; it stands
for enabling people to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels
without disadvantaging less privileged groups.
I think as a toolkit, if you like, as an approach,
it has a very long pedigree obviously, as you very well know,
going back before Brundtland. It's used internationally. It's
used by Governments. Would you go and talk to people in the pub,
"I'm going to talk to you about sustainable development"?
No, you wouldn't. You would talk to them about what interests
them. "Should we eat less meat or dairy? Yes or no?"
That interests people, and that's sustainable development. We've
tried to go in through the issues, I think.
Q6 Caroline Nokes:
Thank you. Me again, I fear. Your memo identified the four main
areas of work of the SDC. I would specifically like you to pick
up on the watchdog role and what it actually entails.
Andrew Lee: Yes,
thank you. I am going to pass over to Minas and Farooq to talk
a little bit more about that, if I may.
Minas Jacob: The
main purpose of all our work, particularly the watchdog role,
is to drive performance improvements. Our watchdog work is characterised
by two key principles. One is that we don't catch departments
out by surprise, that we forewarn and that we challenge during
policy development and during the development of operational activities.
The other principle is that we provide, as much as we can with
the information we have, a good overview of performance on priority
Our work to date has focused on Government's operational
performanceyou are familiar with the Sustainable Operations
on the Government Estate targetsbut also challenging those
targets and challenging Government to be more innovative and to
think beyond the boundaries of its estate, including its travel
activities and also impacts through supply chains and across communities.
The other main focus of our work has been advising
Government departments on the adequacy of their sustainable action
plans. That encompasses two key work streams. One is advising
on draft plans, as I said, so that we don't catch people doing
the wrong thing, which would be a misuse of public money, and
to support departments in improving those plans; then, when the
plans are actually published, to produce a watchdog assessment
of each plan. In addition to that, our watchdog work has led us
to comment on a variety of themes, both operational and policy,
including sustainable procurement, Government impact assessment
process, how carbon neutrality is defined and so on.
All the watchdog work necessitates very close
liaison with Government departments. The idea that you can just
pull a report out of the hat once or twice a year and that somehow
you've assessed Government is, frankly, nonsensical. Our work
has been informed by daily liaison and close collaboration with
Government departments. It's the only way to actually advise along
the way, provide a challenge, support innovation and then, when
we do get to the point of producing formal written reports, those
reports are well informed.
Q7 Caroline Lucas:
Can I just come in on that specific point, if that is all right?
I think the message that you're giving very clearly is that the
watchdog role is incredibly important, and I agree with you. Andrew
has already said that if we were to get rid of things like the
watchdog role, then what has to be put in place would need to
be better. The Secretary of State has spoken in a rather relaxed
fashion about the Environmental Audit Committee, for example,
taking on some of the roles that the SDC formerly had. From your
experience of doing the watchdog role in particular, what resources
do you think a Government Select Committeeeven one as ambitious
as ourselveswould need in order to be able to fulfil that
role that you've been doing better than you have?
Minas Jacob: The
current team comprises seven people, and our job is to assess
every single policy that comes through our hands through the sustainable
development action plansall departments, all agencies,
all operational activitiesand to keep a very close eye
on upcoming initiatives so that we can actually inform on that
work. It's the only way of doing it. So our minimumand
I wouldn't say that it is a very comfortable resource by any stretchat
the moment is seven people, all of whom are very dedicated and
work way above the minimum hours that you would expect. So that
could be regarded as a minimum.
Chair: Caroline, do you
want to carry on?
Q8 Caroline Nokes:
Yes. I think Caroline actually picked up on one of the interesting
questions there. You mentioned your very close liaison with Government
departments. What proportion of your work do you consider is occurring
within departments and how much of it is scrutiny from the outside?
Minas Jacob: The
two go hand-in-hand. When you say "scrutiny from the outside",
I would say it is actually pretty much impossible to do scrutiny
from the outside. Unless you are just going to be looking at people's
electricity bills or statements that Government departments produce,
you have to work with departments to understand their circumstances;
otherwise you are producing watchdog reports, or attempting to,
on information that doesn't even exist, for example. So you need
to understand their circumstances, their challenges, their blocks
and enablers. Then, when you actually produce a formal assessment,
you need to test that with the department because you may have
got it wrong. It is difficult to actually separate the two out
to say, "This is outside and this is inside," but you
can separate them in terms of, at one level, assessment which
is on actual performance out there, as it were, which is the indicatorsDEFRA
has an Indicators in your Pocket booklet, which we don't
produce and the focus of our work, which is on the drivers
of performance, or what actually makes it happen.
Farooq Ullah: Can
I just add there that it is important to note that scrutiny work
is not static. It's very evolutionary and evolves over time in
response to the needs of the people we work with. This requires,
as Minas and Andrew pointed out, close liaison and day-to-day
interaction with officials to understand their needs and provide
them with effective scrutiny. Scrutiny is a means to an end, not
an end in itself. Ultimately our intent is to build capability
through scrutiny and not just to produce reports and then walk
away from them. The point is that you need to have a very close
understanding of where sustainable development in Government is
going by working day-to-day with the officials and people who
are responsible for the delivery of the agenda.
Andrew Lee: I would
addif that's okaythe sort of approach we've used
is very different, dare I say, from a PWC or, can I say, a Philip
Green approach and hopefully a lot more cost effective. The analogy
I would use is that if you were looking at the household energy
efficiency in your own home, it is one thing for someone to produce
reams of data saying how much energy leaks through the windows
and how many millimetres of loft insulation you've got, but actually
what you want is someone to tell you what to do. What do you do
about it? Our interest has always been in getting the performance
to be better. So, although we rather enjoyed our traffic lights
and league tables, and seeing Secretaries of State held to account
on departmental performance, our objective has not been to see
red lights. Our objective is to see green lights and to try to
help those departments achieve that. I know you can argue that
you can separate the two things completely, and separation of
function is important, but I think that approach has really given
Q9 Mr Spencer:
Can I ask you about devolved Administrations and how you anticipate
working with them in the future?
Andrew Lee: Of
course, yes. One of the interesting things was that when Securing
the Future, the then SD strategy, was launched, it was, as
you all know, launched by four Governments, not just one. Each
devolved Government has gone its own way, as it should, to tackle
this. The Scottish Government took one approach through five overarching
goals for Government. The Welsh Assembly Government, of course,
has a statutory duty, a founding principle, of sustainable development,
so it's always had that hard-wired. It is different again in Northern
Ireland. What we've tried to do is work with the flow of those
Governments and work with the way they want to tackle SD, so it
is not about the polemic or rhetoric, it is about how they want
to do it.
What's clear now is that they're still deciding
where to go. In Wales we know that there is a strong view of the
Minister to go for a stand-alone organisation, a sort of sustainable
futures organisation in Wales, probably by integrating different
Government bodies so it's more efficient and saves money but it's
also more effective. In Scotland, the jury is still out and they're
looking at committee arrangements inside Government, but also
perhaps at the external, "Do we need some sort of support
and advice embedded in a body outside?"
We've always celebrated the diversity. We think
it's great. Devolution football is fun. You know, not every Government
has a monopoly on common sense. The Welsh Assembly Government
has got a founding principle. It doesn't mean necessarily it's
the most sustainable, but it's an interesting approach. I think
there's a lot to learn. Actually one of our issues that I hope
you will be picking up is how are the four Governments going to
work together on this, particularly in the lead-up to Rio plus
20? At WSSD in Johannesburg, the last Sustainable Development
Summit, the First Ministers played a very strong and effective
role alongside the UK Government, and I'm sure they will want
to do that again. We don't want to lose that kind of lesson learning
between the different countries, I think.
Q10 Mr Spencer:
Can I ask you about targets? How useful are Sustainable Development
in Government and the SOGE targets in delivering the transition
towards sustainable development?
Minas Jacob: Can
you repeat that question, please?
Mr Spencer: Yes. How important
are both the SOGE targets
Chair: That is Sustainable
Operations on the Government Estate.
Minas Jacob: Yes,
Mr Spencer: and
Sustainable Development in Government. How important are they,
and do they assist?
Minas Jacob: Well,
the truth is they clearly have assisted to put sustainable operations
and procurement high up on departments' agendas. They have helped
to deliver resultsnot on their own. They do require strong
leadership to drive them through, and we believe the targets themselves
need to be stronger in particular areas. But the truth is there
have been significant improvements recently. Those improvements
now need to be driven forward with greater ingenuity and innovation
to drive improvements beyond the Government Estate and narrow
environmental limit of targets, but I think they are one of the
measures that has helped improve performance.
Q11 Mr Spencer:
Are there any quick wins that spring to mind?
Minas Jacob: There
are many quick wins. We have listed them in our recent report,
but, if you think about more robust demands management as probably
being top of that list, there are so many examples. DWP, for example,
extended the life cycle replacement of their computers from three
to five years and have saved something like 139,000 computers
and something like £35 million, in addition to uncalculated
savings on carbon impacts through supply chains. That is just
one example. At the moment we don't have robust demand management
processes across Government, so we were hardly surprised when
Philip Green made similar statements in his recent report, because
this is exactly what we've been saying for the past four years.
Farooq Ullah: The
development framework is an important measure of transparency
about what the Government intends to achieve on sustainable operations,
but there are other mechanisms which have to go along with any
such framework that actually ensure delivery: delivery plans,
what will actually be achieved and how it will be done; monitoring
and reporting mechanisms to ensure feedback and openness to public
as well as the effective scrutiny that we've been talking about
all along. These are the important things. The targets themselves
haven't done anything. They're just a framing of what Government
intends to do. It's a full system that needs to be put in place.
Q12 Mr Spencer:
CESP is located in the Office of Government Commerce within the
Cabinet Office. Does it have the resourcing and impartiality to
report on Sustainable Development in Government without the SDC's
Minas Jacob: I
think it does, although from conversations I've had with CESP,
as we call it, they are equally worried about their future, so
that's something that you might want to look into. The Centre
of Expertise in Sustainable Procurement was created as a result
of our recommendations two or three years ago. We have worked
very closely with CESP and we have supported them, including advising
on developing a sustainable procurement vision and seconding one
of our key members of staff to actually help them develop the
Government's operational delivery plan. I think they have been
pivotal in driving recent performance improvements, and we've
said so in our report, but our roles are different.
From the outset, certainly on my taking up the
head of the watchdog role, we saw our job as to help embed these
processes back into Government. So whereas my job and Farooq's
job started by including data collection, we said, "That's
not our job to do that. That's Government's job to collect data
and report on its own performance." Our job is to report
on the higher level of that performance, challenge that performance,
make the links between that performance and broader policy aims
and make recommendations for change. CESP, in short, was a good
idea. We think they've done a good job. They were created as a
result of our recommendations. We worked very closely, but we
do have different roles. They are closer to the detail and the
data than we are.
Q13 Mr Spencer:
If you guys aren't there, do they have the expertise to be able
to do it all?
Andrew Lee: Not
for doing the whole thing, no. CESP is very focused on operations
and particularly on procurement. That is what it was set up to
do, quite rightly, and it is doing that job very assiduously.
The other issue is that there is such a focus now on carbon. I
mean the 10:10 commitment is great in itselfnothing against
that at allbut there is a danger that Government policy
becomes driven by boiler replacement issues. We heard a senior
director in DECC telling us the other day that they have energy
reporting every five seconds updated on the website. This is fine,
but it's a very, very narrow focus just on one aspect of sustainable
operations and sustainable policy. So that needs to be got rightof
course it doesbut it is about more than boiler replacement.
It's also about water use; it's about food procurement; it's about
a whole host of other very, very important issues.
Q14 Zac Goldsmith:
Theoretically, how could the remit of that organisation be expanded
to include the broader sustainability criteria? Is there any relevance,
is there any role there, for the Green Book in your view, which
also has a focus principally on carbon?
Andrew Lee: Yes.
I might ask my colleague, Shirley, to talk a little bit about
that because there is potential, obviously.
I think, as Andrew and Minas have talked about, CESP is really
about the sustainable operations for procurement, and really the
Green Book is about all investment decision making at Government
level. It's one of the tools that Government uses to look at its
impacts in terms of sustainability. Howeverwe talked earlier
about successes, failures and barriersthe tools to help
officials make those decisions are very weak, and we've worked
very hard with Government to try and improve them. We've made
some headway in that, in that the Green Book definition or the
Green Book guidance doesn't really reflect environmental limits
or social impacts very well. It's very biased to trying to achieve
economic outcomes and gives prevalence to monetised benefits of
any investment decision, so it starts to skew away from giving
a true sustainable development impact of a particular policy or
initiative that you want to implement.
As I've said, we've been working very hard on
that and I think that's one of the issues that DEFRA and the Secretary
of State at DEFRA has said that they want to focus on. We would
absolutely urge that the momentum has to carry on with that to
make sure that that rebalancing happens. But there is a whole
host of other tools and guidance that also needs to be improved
as well. I am not sure CESP is necessarily the right place to
do that, but as part of its decision making it would need to use
those sorts of tools too.
Just before we move on, you've talked about CESP having an important
role to play but it's very narrow in detail. Where is the wider
remit or where should the wider remit actually be, given that
you come to an end at the end of the financial year? Where do
you think that overall remit is to make sure that accountability
happens, that you currently do?
Andrew Lee: Yes,
and clearly that's what the Government has to decide and you will
be asking. In our view, I said it has to be led from the top.
There needs to be Cabinet level engagement, by Cabinet Ministers.
There needs to be Cabinet Office involvement. There's been a long
debate about whether sustainable development should be in the
Cabinet Office going back way before I got involved with it, but
I think there is a good argument for that because it shows it's
cross-departmental. However good DEFRA and DECC are at providing
support to other Government departments for what they're doing,
it needs to come from the centre.
Then there is the operational machinery, whatever
that is. You could put in better machineryyou could put
in an incentive-based system rather than just a target-based system,
or you could put in absolute rather than relative measures. At
the moment it's okay for one department to use twice as much water
per head as another provided they are all improving. Well, why?
Are some civil servants washing twice as much? What's going on?
I think the operational bit needs to be clearly embedded somewhere
in Government. CESP does some of that now. It could be expanded.
The OGC could take on more of that roleof course it could.
You need Cabinet Office leadership because there's a policy dimension
to this. You obviously need the scrutiny and holding to account,
which is what you are looking at taking on.
Chair: On that point,
Q16 Simon Kirby:
You mentioned leadership. Obviously leadership is vital for success.
You also mentioned earlier that the former Prime Minister had
lost interest. Do you think he'd lost interest in sustainable
development or just the SDC, and why was that?
Andrew Lee: Undoubtedly
both, I suppose. No, I don't know. I think genuinely when Tony
Blair started this initiative he was interested in it, but what
happened is the focus became more and more on the international
leadership and on climate change. Now I can understand that. Climate
change is a very pressing, very urgent, example of unsustainable
developmentthe consequences. It is vitally important and
it's fantastic we've got the Climate Change Act and we've got
the carbon budget. But I think the wider plot was lost because
it's not just about carbon. It's about biodiversity; it's about
land use; it's about soil; it's about equality; it's the ability
people have, if you like, to live more sustainably, what access
to services they have.
I think gradually that did unravel because the leadership
started with the Prime Minister and it was then weaker. I don't
think Gordon Brown was interested in it. The leadership at official
level started by being driven by Permanent Secretaries and was
then devalued. As I say, some departments really went with ityou
are going to hear from one in a minute, in DHand others,
the Treasury notably, just said, "Yah boo sucks. I'm not
really interested in this. We've got a Sustainable Development
Action Plan, but it's more about how many cars we use and how
we heat the building than it is about how our economic policy
I thought of two examples of the consequences
when we were coming into this session. One would be the way we
have unwittingly in Britain walked into a situation where we are
designing obesity into our local neighbourhoods, which is costing
the NHS billions. We all know; we're trying to tackle that problem
now. That's intimately linked to people's access to public transport,
to their ability to be mobile, active citizens, and also to well-being
as well as obesity, which is linked to access to nature as well.
Another example would be energy policy, where we've seen that
over-reliance on market mechanisms and over-reliance on doing
everything you do through utilities delivering to households has
now run up against the buffers, which is why both the previous
Government and the new Government are in a bit of a panic now
about what to do about it.
The reason I use those examples is that this
is what we're talking about, when we speak about sustainable development
thinking. It's not something else you do when you've got time
left over from those issues. It's about how you think about the
long term, the social, the environmental and the global consequences
of the direction of policy. We can see this in our strategic defence
review, in pensions reform, in welfare package. So that's what
we're talking about. I think the opportunity was lost, actually.
There was momentum built up and then it was lost. The tools are
okay in themselves, but frankly, you've got a Sustainable Development
Action Plan in your department? Who gives a stuff unless the Perm
Sec and the Secretary of State are saying, "We need to be
the best at this. It's really important for our performance. We
are going to get punished by the Treasury if we're not performing
on these sustainable development criteria"? So it didn't
flow through sufficiently.
Q17 Simon Wright:
I was going to ask some questions on the SD Action Plans, and
you've already touched on some of the problems. What feedback
have you had from the departments themselves about the value and
how they could be improved and made more effective?
Farooq Ullah: We've
had very positive feedback from departments, and all organisations
in central Government have come to us repeatedly for advice and
support in developing them. A good example is the Foreign and
Commonwealth Office who, after suffering a red light in an assessment
of the quality of their plan, took it to heart and developed an
integrated approach to driving sustainable development through
all aspects of its business planning. It used engagement across
the department, including throughout the world, to improve the
way in which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office operates and
delivers its services. It's made great steps forward from being
one of the worst performing departments to probably one of the
departments that has best integrated sustainable development through
everything it does.
Another good example is the DVLAthe Driver
and Vehicle Licensing Agencywhich has decided to take the
bold step of not having an SDAP but instead integrating sustainable
development into its central business reporting process. It's
important to understand that an SDAP is an important starting
point as a stand-alone report, which helps an organisation build
up its ability to understand the issues and impacts it has, but
then over time it should be integrated into the central reporting
Minas Jacob: Can
I just add that there have been literally hundreds of changes
to draft plans as a result of our feedback, all of which we have
tracked and can provide you with more information on, department
by department, agency by agency? The plans come to us in draft
form. We do a very thorough analysis. We give very specific feedback.
Then there is ongoing discussion, obviously, but literally hundreds
of changes across Government. What concerns me, frankly, is that
even if we move to a point of more integrated reporting which,
by the way, the SDC has been calling for from Government for over
four years nowit doesn't bypass the need for somebody to
actually look at departments' plans and check up how robust they
are and whether they're actually fit for purpose. Integrated reporting
does not bypass that need. Somebody somewhere still needs to
cast an eye over these. At the moment, it is the SDC. We don't
know what plans Government has in place for the future to check
Government policy plans. At the moment there's nothing.
Q18 Simon Wright:
Okay, thank you. Are there some departments, some agencies, that
have struggled to engage in this process, and, if so, which are
those and has there been any work to bring them more into the
Farooq Ullah: Yes.
The different organisations are all at completely different levels.
We've done assessments over the past few years which show that
departments are at very different levels. Treasury is always
separate and, as I mentioned, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
traditionally was very poor. DECC has struggled currently to get
its own Sustainable Development Action Plan up in place nearly
two years after its creation. The context though needs to be taken
into account. It's not so much who's good and who's bad: it's
where you are on the journey that needs to be considered, and
those who are lagging need supportcentrally from Government
once we cease to existto ensure that all people of all
organisations are brought up to a certain standard, a level where
we can assure the public that they have a good understanding of
their own sustainable development impacts.
Andrew Lee: I think
Farooq is being very polite and tactful. I think there are two
things actually that I've noticed over five years at the SDC.
The first is that departments that have big operations kind of
get this, because it's a bit like a big company. Your Perm Sec
is the chief executive. You don't want to be wasting money on
energy or whatever. The MOD is an interesting example of that,
which of course is massive. 60% of the impact of Government operations
is MODthat's going to become rather less presumably under
the spending review proposals. So one thing is that if you've
got operations you can do it, but then you get the corollary of
that, which is departments who have a relatively small operational
impact but huge policy influenceI mentioned the Treasury,
and the Cabinet Office is an interesting examplehave struggled
much more. Some have been unwilling and some have just struggled,
I think, with how you actually do this. That is where I think
DH and DEor DCSF as it wasare interesting models
for you to look at, because they really have tried to use sustainable
development and to develop a sustainable schools policy, to develop
a toolkit for the NHS and so on and so on. They're in the middle
of trying to do operations and policy.
Q19 Zac Goldsmith:
Can I quickly ask, where an individual department has performed
well, and you've named a few, how much of that is down to pressure
from the Minister as opposed to pressure from department officials?
I am interested in the dynamic. If you are setting out to apply
pressure in a department, where would you most effectively apply
Andrew Lee: I suppose
the easy answer is that it has to have ministerial leadership.
There have been cases of very good initiatives driven by officials,
but they will tend to run into the buffers sooner or later. The
sustainable schools policy, as previously pursued by DCSF, basically
went down the tubes because Michael Gove came in and said, "No,
I want to do things differently." I think you've got to have
a Minister behind it, but having a Minister behind it is not enough.
Charles Clarke under the previous Government, and Peter Hain,
when he was at Northern Ireland, were both examples of Ministers
who really drove through with a cart and horses sustainable development
policy, pretty much with grudging acceptance from officials, and
then it backfires of course because it doesn't stick unless you've
got it at all levelsit's in performance objectives, it's
in the day job for everybody.
I don't claim unique expertise on this. It is the
same as any organisational change. You've got to have leadership
at the top, but you've also got to have really active participation
and engagement from the people doing the job, otherwise it will
just be a flash in the pan. The Minister moves on. I think I
dealt with four Housing Ministers in my previous role. I was getting
dizzy after a while, going into the same office and having the
same conversation about the existing housing stock with a new
Minister. Unless the officials at senior level get it, it ain't
going to happen. So, it's both, I think.
Q20 Dr Whitehead:
The proposed or suggested arrangements for oversight of sustainable
development would presumably fold into Cabinet Committee in the
future. How do you think that might work?
Shall I take that one? We've had some discussions or we've certainly
sent advice in to the Cabinet Office Minister, Oliver Letwin,
advising on how we think it might work. Essentially, as Andrew
has already said, it absolutely needs the Cabinet Office or a
Cabinet Committeesome sort of structure that takes sustainable
development in its remit. The options vary from having a separate
Cabinet Committee or Cabinet Sub-Committee. I think discussions
are now focused on possibly incorporating sustainable development
into the Home Affairs Committee, which is fine. Along with all
the comments that we've made here, it really depends on how it's
delivered. That's fine as long as sustainable development isn't
just seen as a standing item on an agenda that you look at, maybe
once a quarter, look at a few indicators and then leave it. It
doesn't really pick up the international aspects or the fact that
sustainable development is a cross-cutting issue. How it is going
to be looked at and implemented is going to be really critical.
Is it going to be supported by some sort of access
to expertise, both internally within Government but also externally
to a body of expertise that we've had at the Sustainable Development
Commission very cheaply through a series of commissioners over
the last 10 years who have been experts in their field? Those
are really the big issues.
The biggest issue I think for us, certainly on the
policy side, is that we have been able, alongside the policy we've
talked aboutco-development of policy and helping departments
look at policyis to look at the big wicked issues, the
massively important issues that run across Government, which aren't
being looked at, partly because they're so difficult. Some of
the reports that the commission has produced over the years around
energy, behaviour change and moving to a more sustainable economic
systemthose are really big issues that fundamentally will
change the way the UK moves forward and how it operates in the
We saw this with the Public Accounts Committee comment
about the lack of strategy or strategic vision. Who's looking
at it at Cabinet Office level or Cabinet Committee level? Well,
we would see a sustainable development Committee doing exactly
that. The sort of issues that have come through the commission
over the years have been those massively important issues that
are so difficult but need an airing amongst a group of Ministers
that come to some sort of consensus about how you move forward
that doesn't exceed environmental limits and doesn't exacerbate
unfairness. Those discussions have to be held at ministerial level,
with Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister leadership.
Q21 Dr Whitehead:
The Cabinet Committees are not resourced in their own right. Referring
to Caroline Lucas's earlier question, do you have any thoughts
on how such quite important questions about watchdog roles and
resourcing of that might run alongside such Cabinet Committee
Again, we have advised the Secretary of State at DEFRA, who is
the lead for sustainable development, and Oliver Letwin and Chris
Huhne, who all have a role in agreeing what happens in terms of
embedding sustainable development in Government. Currently there
are some 20 or so policies and research analyststhese are
over and above the watchdog staff that Minas has talked aboutwho
provide that work with departments in terms of co-developing policy
and so on, but then provide that sort of wider expertise to deal
with those big issues. We have absolutely no idea how that expertise
is going to be provided for, either to the Environmental Audit
Committee in terms of the watchdog role or to the policy advice
to Government. We would see that as additional. The expertise
we provide is very specific around sustainability. It is not just
policy advice on planning or education or health. That is the
missing bit which I think will drop through the cracks, and we
are not sure how that is going to be provided yet, but we've asked
the question and I'm sure that you will too.
Q22 Dr Whitehead:
Perhaps I could touch on a possible example. The Treasury Green
Book on procurement has interesting guidelines on green procurement,
but on the other hand apparently a number of contradictory guidelines
in terms of what is value for money and various other things.
If you are a procurement officer and you have all this in front
of you, and you presumably wish to keep your job, I guess you
would look at some of those guidelines, attempt to reconcile the
inconsistencies with other guidelines and then procure on the
basis of what appear to be the overriding guidelines as opposed
to the advisory guidelines; and therefore you will probably not
procure very sustainably. What mechanisms would you see in the
context of some sort of Cabinet Committee oversight of reconciling
those sort of issues, where a department clearly has put into
its own guidelines its own view of the extent to which sustainability
might trump other issues which it also considers important?
I think the first thing is that there are some tools, and we have
talked about some of those alreadythe Green Bookwhich
are imperfect because the guidance has not dealt with those issues.
We've been working very hard with the Government Economic Service
and the Better Regulation Executive and others to try to exactly
sort out those issues. The messages we're getting back through
the SDAP process and through departmental contacts is, "It's
confusing and how do we get the right answer?" That needs
to be sorted out, but I think overarching for me would be the
fact that the sustainable impact test is seen as an add-on test,
to be done after or alongside other impact tests. It is not seen
as the first thing you do to identify what are the sustainable
impacts, tensions or complexities which then throw up those sort
of issues that you need to look at.
Then, in terms of procurement, some of this will
be a political issue; some of it has to take into account money,
budgetsyou know, this is the real world. But I think the
first thing is understanding that there are environmental limits
that have to be maintained, and there are social impacts and other
issues that are also priorities which Government has set out.
One of the issues for us is that we still haven't had a statement
yet from Government about what it thinks are its sustainable development
priorities, which we would call for urgently because that would
help then guide people in terms of policy decisions or procurement
decisions or whatever.
Farooq Ullah: As
you readily point out, there is a lot of supplementary guidance
and conflicting guidance around the Green Book and decision making
in Government. There is some good work going on, and Shirley mentioned
the Government Economic Service and the newly formed Social Impacts
Task Force. The issue is that the Social Impacts Task Force in
particular is seeking to produce supplementary guidance for the
Green Book and the Magenta Book on how to measure social impacts
of any decisionsinvestments or otherwise. The problem and
the major risk is that the supplementary guidance will just continue
to be ignored. This needs to be revised. The Green Book needs
to be overhauled and any new developments and understanding of
how to measure impactsenvironmental, social, economicneeds
to be put in a co-ordinated integrated fashion into a much better,
more concise Green Book, which allows a user, practitioner, procurerwhomever
the role isto understand all types of impacts of a decision,
to deal with the interplay between those impacts and to find any
mitigating measures which should be put in place before a final
decision is made. This includes looking at monetised costs and
benefits as well as non-monetised costs and benefits, and putting
it all in an upfront summary for ministerial decisions.
Andrew Lee: That
does rather bring us back to this issue of indicators. I know
this can be a very arcane discussion and some of us have lived
and died on this for years, but unless there is something clear
in place about how the Government intends to measure its progress,
and how it is going to measure the progress that the country as
a whole is making, which balances economic, environmental and
social aspects, we are building on sand. How do you apply the
Green Book to Heathrow airport or to the Severn tidal barrage,
never mind sort of day-to-day decisions, unless you can be pretty
clear how you're measuring those three things? Sustainable development
means you've got to make progress on all three at once, or at
least with the cumulative decisions you makeit's sometimes
hard to apply it to one individual decision, but over time that
cumulative impact needs to be measured.
What we are hearing at the moment is a lot about
input/output measurement, which is fine. Of course you need to
do that, but that could be just measuring for the sake of itthe
cost of everything and the value of nothing. But how are we going
to measure progress towards or away from sustainability? It's
not just about well-being; it is well-being, but it's more. It's
not just about environment; it is environment, but more. It's
not just about conventional economic measures. This is what Cabinet
Ministers ought to be fighting about. They ought to be doing this
transparently in a forum where it can be seen and observed, and
they ought to be applying these principles to how you put these
measures in place in Government, and then add to that
Chair: We've almost come to the end of
our time. I know that Zac Goldsmith wishes to come in. I'm not
sure if any other members of the Committee want to catch my eye,
Q23 Zac Goldsmith:
Thank you. I have a very quick question. In terms of the priorities
of this body, the Environmental Audit Committee, obviously there
is a huge range of concerns and issues and it is not practical
to imagine that we can take on all of the work that you've done.
For all the obvious reasons, that's not going to happen, but there
are priorities, and I suppose my question is: how high up the
list of priorities, in your view, should be the goal of helping
the Government establish that mechanism you just described for
really accounting for natural capital, so that every decision
by every department is judged on the basis of how it takes from
or adds to Britain's real natural wealth? For me that's a big
priority, but based on your experience as the SDC and your knowledge
of this organisation, how high up the list of priorities should
Massively high up. I think it is one of the issues that we have
struggled with over the yearsthe issue of environmental
limits and valuing natural capital. We know that DEFRA has tried
to do some work on it and has got nowhere. We have started some
work which will leave some challenges, I think, for DEFRA going
forward. Because of that, and because of the way the Green Book
is configured, it's meant that people start obviously looking
at the economic issues, with maybe a bit of social and maybe a
touch of carbon. It doesn't give you that whole rounded sustainable
development approach, which is absolutely critical.
I think one example you might want to look at
would be the abolition or the moving of the Infrastructure Planning
Commission into CLG. Major infrastructure applications that were
going forwardwe have a statutory role to look at that.
Nobody is looking at that now. One of the big issues that we raise
in our evidence would be: who is going to look at the cumulative
impacts against environmental limits? For example, on carbon,
we have carbon budgets. That is the one environmental limit that
is quantified and could be measured. The IPC, as was then, were
told it wasn't their job to look at the impacts on carbon cumulatively.
So you could have been in a ludicrous situation where they were
approving a whole series of new energy infrastructure, transport
infrastructure, that would have had massive impacts on carbon
budgets, but it wasn't their role to report on it; it wasn't the
Climate Change Committee's role to monitor that, either. We could
be breaching environmental limits on carbon; nobody is looking
at that. The same issue on biodiversity. It is much harder to
manage but we've had various reports coming out about how important
ecosystems, TEEB and so on, are. It is a massive issue that I
think is a big priority for the Environmental Audit Committee
to look at.
Farooq Ullah: I
think, at its most basic, it is absolutely fundamentally important
that Government understands the link between natural capital and
environmental capital and well-being, both economic well-being
and societal, social, well-being. If they can understand that
link, the flows of natural capital to well-being, it would be
a massive step forward in decision making.
Thank you very much indeed, all of you. I think time has run out
for us. We are very conscious of the work that you have done over
the years that you've been in existence. Thank you for that. This
is obviously an ongoing debate, so if there are further issues
which you think need to be put into further evidence to the Committee,
please let us have it.
Andrew Lee: Thank
you, and the very best of luck in your enhanced role.