Embedding sustainable development across Government, after the Secretary of State's announcement on the future of the Sustainable Development Commission - Environmental Audit Committee Contents


Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 52-123)

MICHAEL ANDERSON, WILLIAM JORDAN AND SAM ROWBURY

3 NOVEMBER 2010

Chair: I would like to welcome you all to the Environmental Audit Committee this afternoon, and thank all three of you for coming in. We do not want a long introduction from each of you, but if you introduce yourselves and let us know the remit you have responsibility for, that might be helpful.

Mr Anderson: I'm Mike Anderson. I am the Director General in Defra, under which sustainability comes. I also run the Green Economy programme, and in fact all our corporate services and spending review. But the sustainability agenda comes under me in policy terms in Defra.

Mr Jordan: I'm William Jordan. I'm the Chief Sustainability Officer for Whitehall. I am responsible for delivering the policies that Mike Anderson and his colleagues in DECC come forward with for government on sustainable development in Whitehall.

Mr Rowbury: Hello, I'm Sam Rowbury. I'm the Acting Director of the Centre of Expertise in Sustainable Procurement, which is a team in the Efficiency and Reform Group in the Cabinet Office that supports William in his role as Chief Sustainability Officer.

Q52   Chair: As you know, we are looking at the ramifications of the decision about the Sustainable Development Commission. We want to kick off by asking you if you could give us some idea about government performance to date on sustainable development and where it needs to be urgently improved. We would like to have a sense of where you feel that direction of travel should be.

Mr Anderson: Perhaps we should divide it up, as I'm the policy person, starting with me on policy across the piece, which is a bit wider I guess than the operations and the procurement under William.

Sustainable development has come a very long way in the last 10 years or so, and the SDC made a major contribution to that during the period when they were arguably in charge of the agenda, at least in terms of an arm's length body. We would say that the general principles of sustainable development are well understood in government departments—that was something that has happened in the last 10 years and I don't think was there beforehand—and that policies presented by policy officials, for Ministers to decide on, all have that strong evidence base of the sustainable development agenda sitting within it. That's partly why this Government has decided that the Sustainable Development Commission is no longer necessarily the right way forward to drive the agenda.

Where do we need to focus it next? We can talk more if you want examples of what has happened before. Where I think we need to focus it next is across the three planks of sustainable development. The main focus of the Coalition Government's agenda is the green economy and driving that very hard. There are a number of remits within the structural reform plans of different departments, all of which correlate into the green economy; some of it low carbon, some of it beyond that. For example the Green Economy Roadmap, which is a joint piece of work with Defra, DECC, BIS, also with the Cabinet Office, HMT and DfT involved in it.

On the environmental side, the big challenge for us—again we can talk about it in detail if you'd like—is the natural value programme: how we value, in economic terms, the natural environment. That would be very much part of Defra's natural environment White Paper, which we will be presenting soon across government, and the resource efficiency agenda connected to that; the fact that water and various minerals are running out ultimately, and how we deal with that resource efficiency agenda.

Finally, on the social side, the inequalities agenda is very much part of this Government's agenda, as you can see reflected in things like the public health White Paper. I think that's where the focus will be but you can see, in everything I'm saying, it's about it being embedded in the activity of those departments, rather than an add-on, with or without the Sustainable Development Commission helping us. So I think that's the approach.

Q53   Chair: Can I just pick you up on what you said just there about the resource efficiency measures? That's obviously going to be a key part of the European Commission programme as well. But can I just ask you, in relation to the Green Economy Roadmap, how you see all of this being embedded? Who is going to do it? How are you going to be cross-cutting in the way that you take that forward?

Mr Anderson: That is precisely the question that we need to address now. There are certain specific activities, such as the Green Deal—which I think the Secretary of State for DECC has announced—that are clear exemplars of a sustainable development approach to a particular agenda; the social, environmental and economic aspects to the Green Deal. So that's already happening. The Green Economy Roadmap, which is again very much part of this Government's agenda, will need to identify specific activities that will drive that agenda, rather than theories and strategies and that type of approach to it. They're very much more interested in concrete actions that we will take. That work has only just started now, about exactly what we're talking about. The fact that you have DECC, BIS and Defra driving it demonstrates you have a troika of departments who are very much behind it, and the Secretaries of State. We will need Treasury support for this. That's a key part of whatever we do when we buy it in, because without Treasury support we are probably wasting our time.

Q54   Chair: Could you just share with us why you think it has not been sufficiently embedded up until now?

Mr Anderson: That's a very good question. I think partly it is this notion of "add on". One of the problems we've probably had with the sustainable development agenda is, partly, that we haven't explained it very well; it is still a bit of a term of art, a bit of jargon, if you go down to the street. I don't know about your constituents, but when I talk about "sustainable development" it doesn't immediately resonate with a lot of people out there. We haven't explained it that well.

Secondly, having the idea that it's the Sustainable Development Commission over here or a Sustainable Development Unit over here—part of which are my guys behind me here from Defra—isn't always the best way to approach it. It looks as though, "All right, it's just their responsibility" rather than everybody's responsibility, as a policy official in the advice they give to Ministers, that any bit of evidence has to have a short-term effect, a medium-term effect, a long-term effect, which is after all the sustainable development agenda. So it's fundamentally flipping this around and changing it from being the job of an arm's length body, or a particular advocate into: it had better be everything you do in government, otherwise you're not going to make the right policy choices. That's the space we have to get to.

Q55   Zac Goldsmith: Practically speaking, what level would that leadership have to come from?

Mr Anderson: The simple answer is that it has to go through all levels of government. You have to have ministerial, prime ministerial, deputy prime ministerial leadership. The Ministers that I'm aware of who are deeply engaged on this and interested in it are: the Prime Minister himself, not least in relation to things like wellbeing indicators; the Deputy Prime Minister in relation to his chairmanship of the Home Affairs Committee; Mr Letwin, sitting in the Cabinet Office, who is responsible for government policy, who is a very useful ally—if all government policy partly goes through him, he is looking at it through a sustainable development lens—and then the Secretaries of States in the departments we've talked about.

However, if the officials aren't already producing our policy advice thinking through that prism, we're making a mistake. You may have read the summary of the Government Economic Service Survey on the economics of sustainable development, for example, so when we make policy, when we do impact assessments, when we're being checked by the NAO for our activities, it has to be part of what we're doing. In a sense, you could say it should be the natural bailiwick for a civil servant because, in giving our advice, we should always be looking for the long term as well as the short term. There may be tradeoffs but that's part of our job.

Q56   Caroline Lucas: I take the point that if we're talking about people in the street, yes, they might not be able to get their heads around what sustainable development means; it sounds technical; it sound jargon. But what we're talking about are government ministries. We're talking about a concept that has been around almost 30 years, since Rio. We've had the SDC for 10 years trying to embed it. I'm rather alarmed that it all sounds like, "Well, it depends whether or not we have the right Minister in the right place to take it up". Is it the case, would you say, that there just simply hasn't been sufficient high-level political capital put behind this idea to date? Is that the problem? Because it seems to me that we're talking about 30 years since this idea has been around. How many more years do we have to wait for it to be properly embedded in government?

Mr Anderson: No, I don't think I said it depended on the Minister. I think I said I don't necessarily think it was the right approach that we took, in terms of getting sustainable development embedded into the various agendas. Because there have been different Ministers over time that are interested in the agenda, and different politicians interested in the agenda. I think the point on this is: was the Sustainable Development Commission the right way to do it? At the time it might have been because there was a lack of advocacy of the agenda, perhaps, at that time, because of the need to begin to impart a bit of expert advice into departments because of some of the watchdog roles that the SDC played, both on operations and on policies. But I think we're saying that, certainly under this Coalition Government, the agenda has moved on and they want to do it differently, and I think that's where we are.

Q57   Zac Goldsmith: I want to rephrase my earlier question. My question was: at what level? Your answer, logically, is that it should be at every level. But, given that we have seen the closure of what was an arm's length advisory body, which in my view—and probably not just my view—was largely ignored, if you had to recreate that function in an area within government, where would it naturally fit? Is it the Cabinet Office?

Mr Anderson: I see, yes. It's not about Defra, so I'm certainly not worried about that. First of all, I have to say we're not recreating the function because that is not the point of what is being said. But if you're talking about where you drive the agenda from, William may want to talk in a second about the Cabinet Office driving the operational agenda rather than the policy agenda. I am certainly not precious about where you do it from. The Treasury would be the perfect place to drive a sustainable development agenda from, if you wanted to do it, Defra has a lot of the expertise, but it needs to be in every government department. So I think that is an open question and that's what my boss, the Secretary of State, is talking to Oliver Letwin and the Deputy Prime Minister about, what is the best way to drive that agenda, using her personal leadership and using everybody else's as well.

Q58   Simon Kirby: I'm slightly confused now, sir. Are you saying that the Cabinet Office is the best place to drive the sustainability agenda and, if not, is there any evidence that Defra is capable of influencing the other Ministers and departments?

Mr Anderson: They are two separate questions but I'm happy to—I'm also separating out because I'm only talking policy here and William does the operation.

Chair: I think Mr Kirby would like an answer to his question on policy.

Mr Anderson: On policy, Defra has certainly continued to influence across the piece. The government system—as you know—depends on every government department producing a policy. Let's take planning. Let's make it a more concrete rather than a nebulous theory. The planning proposals put forward by Communities and Local Government have a presumption of sustainable development built into them now, and the guys sitting behind me, and our department, have been deeply involved in how that is going to play out. All government departments chip in on that approach—on the Cabinet Committee right-round approach—and influence the agenda in that way. Is Defra strong enough to influence, in every single government department, every single bit of sustainable development? Well, sustainable development covers the whole of government policy, so I think we have to pick and choose, from Defra's perspective, where we think we can have the most impact, in which areas.

Q59   Peter Aldous: When you have peaks and troughs in an economy, do you feel that when things go into recession, perhaps the concept takes more of a backseat than it does in better times?

Mr Anderson: That is a good question, both on operations and on policy. On operations, if you are reducing your carbon by 10% in a particular calendar year, yes, I'd guess you'd probably need to spend a bit of money on it. It is how quickly the return comes back in and whether you have that. In Defra's case it's about £700,000. Do we have that this year in order to make the savings in the following year? The sustainable development answer is, "Yes, you'd be better to spend it this year", which we are doing. But in all cases it's going to be a trade off, I think, isn't it?

Q60   Neil Carmichael: You talked before about picking and choosing which areas to focus on with regard to sustainable development. What sort of mechanism is there for you to find out what you should be picking and choosing from, and is it from the officials or do Ministers take a lead?

Mr Anderson: It's the whole of the Government agenda. I think, in the coalition programme, the word "sustainability" is mentioned about eight or nine times. In each of Defra's structural reform plan priorities it's absolutely embedded in it, and we take our lead from that. Our lead is being taken from the structural reform priorities, for all government departments, about what this Government wants to focus on in the next period, in the whole period of Parliament. The local growth paper, for example, from BIS, is a good example, to make it more concrete. That is a clear priority for this Government. It clearly needs us to have the notion of sustainable development, the principles of sustainable development, embedded into it. So we need to talk to BIS, Oliver Letwin will talk to BIS. It also needs to come to the respective cabinet committee, in that case the Economic Affairs Cabinet Committee.

Q61   Neil Carmichael: Health policy, for example, is not your natural area for sustainable development, but I can think of a few areas where sustainable development is highly relevant: in the building of new hospitals, the planning of facilities, or whatever, and the impact of, let's say, the White Paper, in terms of a consortium for GPs. That's all going to have an impact, isn't it, on the delivery of a service and sustainable development? At that level it reeks all over, doesn't it? The second related question is that if you take, for example, a small town in Germany, Freiberg, they have—

Mr Anderson: Yes.

Neil Carmichael: You know about that?

Mr Anderson: Yes.

Neil Carmichael: Yes. They have gone down the track of linking health with sustainability, and so forth. So how does Defra interface with health on that particular area?

Mr Anderson: We have a very close relationship with health, as it happens. I have a personal relationship as well with the director generals responsible for driving that public health agenda. In particular, we have a very close connection between our social researchers on behaviour change and the relationship between health inequalities, driving public health and driving sustainable development, and also on the mental health agenda as well. There's a lot of discussion between us about the best use of green space for people, for mental health reasons.

So I would argue the Department of Health is one of the better exemplars about how you do that. The public health White Paper is not perfect, and I think a Committee like this might want to look at it and question some of the bits within it, as it should do, but it is at least a department that clearly understands that principle between the short term and the long term—a very good example of a department. I don't think Defra—to answer part of the previous question as well—needs to be deeply engaged if health are already driving that properly. We just need to be light touch: "Are you guys in the right space on this?"

Q62   Martin Caton: When the Secretary of State made the announcement about no longer funding the SDC, she quite rightly reminded everybody that it was not just owned by the UK Government, but it was jointly owned by the devolved administrations. I know you're in discussions about the way forward but, before the decision in principle was made, were there any discussions with the devolved administrations then?

Mr Anderson: There was. If you recall, there was a whole government Cabinet Office-led arm's length body review about the activities taking place, and there were discussions individually with departments about what was happening. Our view was we were going to withdraw funding, whatever. The question then becomes: how does that impact on the devolved administrations and the future of the SDC? Because our decision could not be to close the SDC without the agreement of the three other governments, so it is at that point, once we've made our decision to withdraw funding, that we start talking to the devolved administrations and that conversation is still going on now.

Q63   Martin Caton: Some of my colleagues and I will come back to the watchdog role of the SDC before. But I can't see how the gap is going to be filled, in that the SDC was overseeing what was happening in England, what was happening in Wales, what was happening in Scotland and Northern Ireland. It had a compare and contrast role, which—it seems to me—is a hole quite difficult to fill. Was that taken into consideration when the decision was made?

Mr Anderson: Yes, it was taken into consideration in the sense of the role of the SDC in capacity building across the piece and, therefore, getting best practice and seeing that in different places. But I think the answer to that is in each of the four administrations, countries, devolved administrations, a slightly different approach to sustainable development has grown up. Therefore, I am not certain whether you can compare exactly what's happening in one with exactly what's happening in another and say, necessarily, what should best be applied to one or the other countries. The SDC does have that cross-cutting view, but I'm not certain how much we lose from it.

Q64   Martin Caton: I'm not suggesting it's as simple as, "Look, there's a perfect example, we're all going follow that," but you often can learn from the approach in different parts. But I'll move on to another question, if I may.

Does the Centre of Expertise in Sustainable Procurement, CESP, have the capacity to report on the Sustainable Operations on the Government Estate, SOGE, targets without help from the SDC?

Mr Anderson: I'm lost in the world of acronyms as well, but fortunately it's William's area.

Mr Jordan: Perhaps I could answer that question. Perhaps I could take the opportunity, Chair, to respond to your initial question, since Mike has now given his initial statement on policy.

My post was originally created about two and a half years ago, because the Government of the day was not doing well against its targets for Sustainable Operations on the Government Estate and also its sustainable procurement action plan. That was the finding of the Sustainable Development Commission, acting in its watchdog role of the day. I'm pleased to say the SDC are one of the bodies that we've worked very closely with over the past two and a half years, as we've worked to put that situation right.

May I just go back to your original question and answer both questions at the same time? In terms of what we did then and what still remains to be done and also what we can and cannot do to replace the SDC, as we look at a world without the SDC, the first thing that we needed to do was to establish that there was a single source of authority on sustainable operations and sustainable procurement; that there wasn't one source of authority that dealt with value for money and another that dealt with sustainability. That was helped initially by the fact that I was then working in the Treasury Group. It's helped now because I'm now working in the Efficiency and Reform Group of the Cabinet Office. So no one thinks when I suggest that something be done, for reasons of sustainability, that there might conceivably be any conflict between my right hand and my left where my left hand might say, "You should do this for reasons of value for money".

So establishing a single source of authority was one thing that the creation of my post and the Centre of Expertise—which Sam heads up to support me—achieved. The second thing was sending a very clear message to the world that this agenda was a priority of government. That message has been very much the message of the new administration. One of the very earliest announcements of the new Prime Minister was that this would be the greenest government ever and, as an indication of that, that we would reduce carbon emissions from the Government estate by 10% within 12 months. So establishing priority I think has been done; working with director-general champions of estates across Whitehall, director-general champions of sustainability, commercial directors, estate managers, practitioners, to make sure that we have a guiding coalition to drive action on these agendas. I think that you can always do more on it but it is much more in place than it was two and a half years ago.

Finally, all this has enabled us to put in place a serious planning and performance management regime where, when we are now set a target to achieve 10% reductions in 12 months, departments have planned how they will achieve this. We report monthly; we will publish monthly performance against that target. So I think all those things are in place and they give me considerable confidence that, yes, we can continue to both support progress against the Government's SOGE targets, which remain in force, and the new 10% target, and that we can also challenge departments around the robustness of their data, before we report it.

Q65   Dr Whitehead: For the sake of clarification, could I try to understand the process by which the devolved administrations and the Scottish Government were consulted about the abolition of the SDC? Was it the case that, in the first instance, the Government stated, "We are thinking of abolishing the SDC, what do you think about it?" or was it a case of, "We are abolishing the SDC, what are you going to do about it?"

Mr Anderson: No, our decision was to withdraw funding from the SDC, as I said. Because of the way the articles are set up with the SDC, it could not be a UK Government decision simply to abolish it. Our decision was against the parameters of how the role of the SDC was seen and the money that we were putting into it. Our department determined that that was not the best use of the spend of money for this particular body. At that point you begin the consultation with the devolved administrations about whether that leads to wind up of the SDC, because they still have the right to put money in; they still have the right to support the SDC if they want to do so.

Q66   Dr Whitehead: So it was therefore the latter, "We are going to abolish the SCD"?

Mr Anderson: No, no. It was, "We are going to withdraw our funding".

Q67   Dr Whitehead: Would you not accept that amounts to the same thing then?

Mr Anderson: There are some conversations going on about whether you could maintain it on a de minimis budget. I think we put in about £2.5 million; "we" being our department. I think its overall cost is something over £4 million. So the question is: if the other administrations wanted to they could maintain a body for their benefit.

Q68   Martin Caton: Getting back to CESP and SOGE, have Cabinet Office Ministers committed to maintaining the capacity for Whitehall-wide SOGE reporting?

Mr Jordan: Cabinet Office Ministers and officials, like Ministers and officials elsewhere in Whitehall, are currently digesting their spending of new settlements. But I see no reason to suppose that people will do anything other than maintain our reporting against SOGE targets and the targets of the Prime Minister.

Q69   Martin Caton: To clarify, is it the intention that CESP just takes over the SDC's assessment of the SOGE performance in the future?

Mr Jordan: What we will be able to do in the future is what in fact we have been doing in the past year. Last year we took over from the SDC the administration of the publication of performance data against the targets and the SDC has an established code for assessment of departmental performance, which we can also apply. So I think we can continue to do those two things. The SOGE targets do, of course, just run for one further year.

Q70   Sheryll Murray: What plans do you have to improve SOGE targets?

Mr Anderson: I suppose that's back to me in terms of policy, although William would have to execute it. That is now currently with Ministers. I hope our Secretary of State can say a bit more next week, because we do have an action plan idea. You may have seen in our structural reform plan that we are going to do an action plan in relation to developing this further, and how we set about it. There are ideas on that. We are going to do it, provided it goes through government.

Q71   Chair: If I may just come in on that, before Ms Murray carries on. You mentioned that the action plan was coming out next week. Could you just confirm that that will be out before the Secretary of State comes before the Committee.

Mr Anderson: I hope so, Chair. The processes of Whitehall are the processes of Whitehall. We are trying to do that. We have a commitment to put it out in October; you will have spotted it's November, but we are trying to get that out, not least so you could have a bit of a conversation about it next week.

Q72   Sheryll Murray: Could I just go on a little bit further: have you identified any particular inefficiencies or overlaps with other reporting processes that could be phased out?

Mr Anderson: That is a very good point. It's not a criticism of the SDC, of what we've done before. I don't know how much material you've had the chance to flick through, but when you look at things like the Becoming the "Greenest Government Ever" document—it is besmirched with thousands of charts, as well as everything else—this has become a bit of an industry, rather than focussing on the things that matter. What we're trying to do now is align it to departmental annual reports, to the accounting for sustainability approach that the Treasury want to take in. So we're only doing it once and we're doing it right. You can imagine the complaints from other government departments, when people like ourselves over- bureaucratise and over-complicate what needs to be a broadly simple system of what matters at any given stage. The trouble is everyone says everything matters at any given moment, but we do have to identify what it is that counts and what can we do now, which is why the Prime Minister steer that 10% carbon is what we're going to do in a year—next year—was a good steer because you can focus down on that.

Q73   Sheryll Murray: You have clearly anticipated my next question, because you have answered it already. But should the SOGE targets be extended to arm's length bodies, do you think?

Mr Anderson: We are, in Central Government, the exemplar in relation to this. If you look at business, for example, business is just doing this across the piece. I attended a nine-day conference on sustainability, sponsored by IBM and the Prince of Wales and Business in the Community. This is so much a part of what everybody does, and it's so much a part of what many local authorities and many arm's length bodies do, but it's not everywhere and, therefore, we do need to continue to develop that. I know William would like to comment.

Mr Jordan: Yes, under the SOGE framework, when it was first set up, reporting by arm's length bodies was voluntary. A small number had done so. Reporting by the executive agencies of government was mandatory. That didn't seem to mean 100% of them did it, when I took up my post. We've now have very close to 100% on executive agencies and we will continue to encourage arm's length bodies to report. I believe that, prior to the general election, the previous administration announced that it would extend reporting on an 80:20 basis to arm's length bodies. That is to say that it had intended, had it remained in office, to extend reporting to make it mandatory for arm's length bodies, subject to de minimis threshold of 1,000 square metres or more of floor space, provided that you also had 250 full-time equivalent employees. I think there is a lot to be said, if you want to extend to arm's length bodies to go for some de minimis threshold of that kind; it makes the numbers much more practicable to report on. I see the case for reporting and I encourage from a voluntary basis at the moment.

Mr Anderson: Can I just add something else on that in relation to the expansion of the agenda, not just the bodies, because carbon footprinting is something we are beginning to look at much more, because the supply chain matters in relation to government departments. But it is trying to get the right evidence base on that, which is the next stage. That is out next stage, and I suspect you'll be seeing things in the next few weeks about carbon footprinting that we are trying to do in Defra itself very much, in the lead of that, because that sits in our teams. So there are plans to expand all these things, as we get the evidence base and as people can shoulder the burden of what that means for them.

Q74   Sheryll Murray: Can I just move on to sanctions? If a department fails to meet a SOGE target; do any exist? If it fails to meet the sustainable development indicators, do any sanctions exist at the moment?

Mr Anderson: William is aching to answer that, I can see.

Mr Jordan: I think this depends partly on what you have in mind by "sanctions". The clear thrust of the new administration is towards transparency of reporting. I've already mentioned that we are now reporting monthly data performance outcomes against the 10% carbon target. I see this very much as the way of the future. We've also introduced, under the new administration, the commitment to real time displays of energy usage in 18 headquarters buildings in Whitehall. That means that departments are being held to account in a completely different way than has hitherto been possible. I was sharing a platform with a director-general from DECC, who was saying his department had experience of members of the public phoning them up immediately following the Monday Bank Holiday saying, "Why did you fire up your gas heating system on the Bank Holiday Monday? Surely there was no one in the office", which is a very good question and the sort of thing that previously would have not been accessible to the wider public, and the sort of thing that means you are strongly motivated to succeed.

So the new model, which we've been working on, with real time displays, and with the monthly reporting on the 10%, will lead to a totally different regime and a totally different incentive structure. What we have done hitherto is to publish results for the SOGE targets after year end. Originally these were published in March, following a financial year that had ended 12 months previously. We succeeded in bringing that forward to December. That is not a satisfactory reporting regime. So I think that is the kind of holding to account that departments will now encounter.

Q75   Sheryll Murray: Finally, have any real penalties been considered—for instance, using the threat of fining departments or holding back some of their budget for poor performance?

Mr Jordan: I'm not aware that we have considered holding back the departmental budget for poor performance.

Chair: If you weren't aware, who would be aware?

Mr Anderson: No we haven't done. The short answer is that there are no financial penalties. There has been a discussion around carbon budgeting in relation to that, but that's moved on a bit, because it's a very, very complex system to try and work out—we're not comparing like with like a lot of the time. You have to be careful, because if you're comparing the Ministry of Justice estates, say, prisons—if you look at Defra sometimes we're in mid-table on some of these performance things, which is a bit depressing for a department like ours. Our excuse, reason, rationale for that is we run a lot of laboratories, and we haven't yet found the answer to being as energy efficient in laboratories as we need to be. So the question is: would you penalise us for that? Would you give a financial penalty for that? Or would you say, "Actually, guys, yes, we understand that and the best practice is whatever it is and you guys should be doing that". I would be very surprised to see the Government go down the penalty route, frankly.

Sheryll Murray: So would I, but I just needed to ask the question.

Mr Jordan: You were asking me, if I wasn't aware of this, who might be aware of this? As I was saying earlier, I believe I work for two of my colleagues, one of whom, in Defra, is here today, the other of whom, in DECC, is not here today. I'm not necessarily privy to what might go on in the deepest councils of other government departments.

Q76   Caroline Lucas: Thanks. From the previous evidence we have heard, it is clear that the job of improving sustainability in the different government departments is a very labour intensive role; it requires a lot of close collaboration on an almost daily basis. How many staff are available to assess the sustainable development units in Defra that might be embedded in other departments to try to do that kind of work, and is it something you've considered?

Mr Jordan: Shall we start by saying what the staffing allocation is in the CESP?

Mr Rowbury: So currently we have a team of 14, which is essentially made up of four people who deal with the performance management, and they have an account management role with each department and work very closely with departments to assess their data, validate it, quality assure it and challenge that. We then have two further teams who lead, one on the sustainable operations side and one on the supply chain sustainable procurement side. Their role is more about delivering specific projects, working with departments to try and identify common barriers that we can bring together at the centre and get to grips with and overcome.

So the function of the team is essentially twofold in that you have this kind of challenge piece, which is about looking at department's plans and their data and their kind of performance management function, scrutinising that and working with them to improve the quality of those plans. Then the second function is around support, which is about looking at what is going on in one department and then trying to share that with other departments. So do it once but then spread that information out across Whitehall. So if someone is leading in a particular area we can learn how that information can be disseminated more widely. We have a network of practitioners, who are the sustainability leads in each department, who we bring together to share information and knowledge, learning what works and what doesn't work. We would also work with expert bodies outside government, such as the Carbon Trust, to bring in their advice, where we can provide guidance or recommendations to departments on the kind of priority actions they should be taking and implementing within their estate and their operations.

Q77   Caroline Lucas: The staff in the Sustainable Development Unit?

Mr Anderson: In Defra there are about 30 people in the Sustainable Development Unit, but I'd add to that the 60 economists and the 180 scientists. It depends on what we're trying to achieve. I think you talked about embedding people, which I think the SDC did in the Department of Health and the Department for Education. I don't think that's the policy that we would take, for the reasons that I said at the beginning, that it is not the approach of the current Government to try and embed people who are just the sustainable development people, if you see what I mean.

Q78   Caroline Lucas: What specialist knowledge is available to CESP and Defra and how does that compare to the specialist advice that was provided to the SDC? You mentioned the Carbon Trust but who else can you call on?

Mr Rowbury: We will go to whichever expert body we need to go to get the relevant advice. Something we've done quite recently is to produce some information in support of the 10% commitment, around priority actions that a department could work with its facilities management provider to deliver. So this is looking at the temperature controls within the building and how you can adjust those to reduce the energy use. It's about looking at how you manage the operating window of the building, so that the heating comes on at 9 o'clock in the morning, rather than, say, 8 o'clock in the morning when the first people arrive, and things like using your security staff who might be walking about the building to check for monitors that have been left on by staff.

Q79   Caroline Lucas: That's not specialist advice. What I'm thinking about is: the SDC had top of their game specialist commissioners who they could call on at almost any moment for real specialist advice, and what I want to be convinced of is that there's a plan here somewhere to have a list of people who are already being talked to about providing some kind of similar advice, not a security guard who is going around looking to see whether or not a monitor has been left on.

Mr Rowbury: In terms of our engagement with SDC, I can't remember a particular example when they would have provided us with that sort of practical advice. It would have been when the commissioners—

Q80   Caroline Lucas: No, sorry, let me be clear. They would have provided that to another government department. In their absence, we're trying to cobble together what is going to provide that kind of support, and what's been suggested is that the Sustainable Development Unit in Defra and CESP can somehow provide that degree of specialist support. If you don't have it in your own team—or maybe you do—but if you don't, then who else are you going to be able to pull in to be able to give kind of advice, and what plans are there to talk to them in the same way that the Sustainable Development Commission had, as I say, a number of commissioners and others who they could call on at any minute?

Mr Jordan: I think it's probably worth saying we've worked with a range of specialist bodies over the years, including the Energy Savings Trust and Waterwise, on different aspects of the targets. We do not feel that there has been a lack of technical expertise available to us, or to government departments, as they look to develop their sustainable operations and sustainable procurement. What there has been is a lack of prioritisation and leadership and converting that advice into practical action. That's how the world looks from our perspective.

Mr Anderson: I think that's right. There is an enormous wealth of people to call on on the sustainable development agenda. I'm having lunch next week with the sustainable development partner of PwC who runs sustainability in PwC. We will be looking at the stakeholder base as part of the wind down of SDC. They do have a good stakeholder base as well, and we're talking to them about getting access to that. When Will Day and I interviewed for the potential of four commissioners in March, that never took place, I think something like 300 people applied from outside, who were offering sustainable development practitioner advice to be a commissioner.

Q81  Chair: Sorry, I don't quite see how this is answering the question, in terms of how those people out there are in touch with you and connected to you.

Mr Anderson: That's what I'm saying in relation to the database. One thing the SDC are talking to us about is who they called on, as well, in order to get that expert advice. Because at the minute, what happened before was that people might go to the SDC and say, "Can you get us advice?" Well they didn't have all the capacity for all the advice across all the areas, so they would then find someone as well. What we'll have to do is cut that middle person out and get straight to where you get the proper advice, whatever the issue is. All departments do that all the time, whether it's on economics, whether it's on science, whether it's on any of the areas that would be of interest. I think you're right about how co-ordinated that would be and are we in the right space. I think that it is important for us to try and ensure that happens, and that is a very serious conversation going on with the SDC at the minute.

Q82  Sheryll Murray: Are you aware of any other bodies that various government departments already consult that would fill the role of the Sustainable Development Commission with regard to expert advice? Are you already aware that this is perhaps being duplicated with some departments?

Mr Anderson: The guys have already mentioned the Energy Saving Trust there in relation to the operations that are already around and the Carbon Trusts are also providing a lot of that. So there is a lot of duplication out there. We also have to look, in government, in the times that we're now in, as to what research councils are duplicating activity across the piece. So one of the reasons, one of the drives, behind the whole arm's length body review was indeed to try and avoid duplication across various areas. So, that has been a problem of government because we have spent rather too much money duplicating.

Q83  Dr Whitehead: When CESP took over responsibility from the SDC for collecting and reviewing department's performance data, did it get any extra staff to do that?

Mr Jordan: CESP did not exist prior to its creation in 2008, so yes it got staff to undertake its functions. Those were provided partly through a transfer from Defra and partly through a transfer of resource from other government departments.

Q84  Dr Whitehead: It was set up in 2008 and took over responsibility from SDC for performance data in 2009?

Mr Jordan: Yes.

Q85  Dr Whitehead: At that time it had 14 staff?

Mr Jordan: Yes.

Dr Whitehead: And it has now?

Mr Jordan: Yes.

Dr Whitehead: Sorry it had 14 staff in 2008 and has 14 staff now, is that right?

Mr Jordan: I'd be entirely happy to go back to the record and confirm this, but, broadly speaking, yes, its funding has remained constant over this period. If the question is intended to probe how we managed to do this without additional staff, I think the answer is that we spent quite a lot of our first year working over the data very closely with the SDC to check its robustness, because our suspicion was that much of it was not terribly robust. So we always had a performance management team from the beginning. As it became clear that we were getting much better quality data, that the performance regime could be simplified, the SDC decided it would prefer to spend its time working on other issues and leave us to continue the work we'd started on the data in cutting a degree of duplication.

Q86  Zac Goldsmith: A very quick question, relating specifically to Defra. It is a bit of a crude question, but I am interested in knowing more about the relationship between a department like Defra and the SDC. How often did you seek their advice? How often did they give you unsolicited advice? How often did you take their advice? It is the SDC's influence over the behaviour of departments that I'd be interested in hearing a little about.

Mr Anderson: Yes. It was a mixed model frankly. We gave them the money to fund them and the team behind me here were in constant daily/hourly contact with them. Sometimes we gave them a remit saying, "Would you like to look at that?" Sometimes they did bits of work on their own decision, with their own board and commissioners deciding to do that, so it was a mixed relationship. With the SDC, because of the four planks of it—whether or not you'd consider that a good remit—the advocacy, the capacity-building, the policy advice and the watchdog, there was inevitably a mixed model, in relation to how you ran that from that perspective. Other departments could also call on them for bits of advice when they wanted to. I assume that they then decided whether they had the resource or capability and sometimes charged those departments, I think, if there was a very specific piece of work that they might need doing. But the general remit was established in the beginning.

Q87  Caroline Lucas: I have a question about the transition from the end of the SDC and passing over the experience and knowledge to Defra and CESP. What processes are in place to make sure that there is a seamless transfer of knowledge and experience?

Mr Anderson: Daily, hourly, minutely I think in this case. It's fascinating to see that when you decide to withdraw funding from something there is a massive upsurge of interest in that particular thing. The complexity of dealing with that means we are in constant and total contact all the time, about which bits work where and how that goes. We can go into the detail of which elements of it you like, but it is a total conversation non-stop with the teams of how we do it. I would like to pay respect, in front of the Committee, to the individual members of staff because members of staff are having to leave, and—whatever one decides about the merits of the decision—I would like to put on the record our high respect for the value of the individuals involved. We have to deal with people who may be losing jobs at the end of March, so there is an awful lot of activity going on, on that front; then there's activity going on, on the substance of what are the things that we will be wanting to carry on; what are the things that our Secretary of State—who is coming next week—thinks could be handed over direct to Defra, and what are the things we are just dropping. So there is a very complex conversation about which bits should go where and which bits are dropped.

Q88  Caroline Lucas: I look forward to seeing it. Defra has had the second largest proportional cut arguably, with 29%, in the CSR. How is that going to affect the capacity of CESP and Defra to be able to move forward on this agenda?

Mr Anderson: I think we're talking about a different way of doing things. Everyone has a 33% cut in admin broadly across government, which is broadly people, so it depends which way you look at it.

Q89  Caroline Lucas: It is pretty clear that Defra has had a disproportionately high percentage of cuts?

Mr Anderson: I don't think we would think that it is disproportionately high. We think it's in about broadly the right space of what you'd expect it to be, given the parameters of the way the Spending Review was set out, which is about 29%. 30% is the figure, if you take the total. Most government departments—

Chair: Sorry, we don't want to know about the reference to other government departments, we just want to know how it will affect your capacity to do—

Mr Anderson: That's fine. What I'm saying is we will be reducing across the piece in Defra in various areas. We will need to see how many people we need to run the future agenda, as articulated, and then cut our cloth according to that. That's exactly what we'll be doing.

Q90  Caroline Lucas: How many posts do you think you'll lose as a result of that kind of level of cuts?

Mr Anderson: In the Sustainable Development Unit or across the whole of Defra?

Caroline Lucas: No, in the SDU.

Mr Anderson: In the SDU I wouldn't like to say, because that's what we have to decide depending on what the future remit will be, which is coming out—

Caroline Lucas: Okay, well tell me Defra as a whole then.

Mr Anderson: Defra as a whole is a 30,000 network, so you'd lose about 5,000 to 8,000 people.

Q91  Caroline Lucas: In terms of the watchdog function of the SDC, there was a statement from the Minister, Jim Paice, basically saying, "There are already many organisations and commentators who will continue to hold the Government to account and thus that a dedicated watchdog body is unnecessary". Are you convinced that there is no need for any other body to be carrying out that watchdog function? How is it going to be done?

Mr Jordan: This goes back to what I was saying earlier about the transparency agenda. I do think that external bodies will have the data in future, with which to hold government to account. We're already experiencing that. This Committee will hold government to account. The National Audit Office will conduct studies that will hold government to account.

Q92  Caroline Lucas: Basically, the Committee has no resources to hold government to account. That's the sort of thing that's just so frustrating, because the Minister herself has said, "Yes, of course, wonderful, the EAC can have a role in holding government to account". Yet, where are the staff? When we have the SDC with 14 more staff, we don't have the capacity to do that. I'd love us to. So, is that a realistic statement, is my question?

Mr Jordan: I believe that occasions like today are a fine opportunity to hold this group of officials to account.

Q93  Sheryll Murray: Yes. I just want to go back a question, if I can, because when you were asked about posts being lost, I fear that when our report is published we'll start to have a lot of scare stories throughout Defra employees. Could I just ask you: obviously, any cuts in personnel will take account of natural wastage, retirement, and of course it crosses all of Defra's areas, from the small sea fisheries office in Plymouth, right through to the headquarters up here? I just was a little bit concerned that we'd made a statement on numbers that perhaps could have been misconstrued.

Mr Anderson: Thank you for your message. Thank you.

Q94  Neil Carmichael: According to your memorandum on this subject, you are going to replace sustainable development action plans with business plans in departments. Is that right, yes? My question is: are you going to review those and are you going to have a part in drawing them up for the other departments, and how is that going to work in terms of your relationship with those departments? I can see some potential areas of dispute there.

Mr Anderson: I think the way to define it is that the structural reform plans have already been drawn up by the secretaries of state in the different departments in consultation. So that's the business plan of where departments are going. We have not been engaged on setting what the business plan is for every government department. That's their secretary of state negotiating with the centre and the Prime Minister about how that happens. I think the important thing is then when those plans are being put into action, in the normal processes of policy and advice going to Ministers, are the principles of sustainable development being very much driven during that. That's when I think we go back to impact assessments, economists looking at the way the policy is being developed, the write-round across government for giving us all an opportunity to check what other government partners are doing, and also the Home Affairs Committee process where these things are brought to discuss.

Our idea would be, for example, that a carbon plan, which is likely to be brought forward by DECC, is scrutinised—if that's the right word—looked at in the Home Affairs Committee to ensure also that the principles of sustainable development are very much part of it. I think the Secretary of State for DECC is very keen for that to happen. That's the sort of process that I think will happen.

Q95  Neil Carmichael: Just how tough are you going to be able to be with other departments? What mechanisms are you going to have to ensure their business plans, their behaviour and their policies are along the lines of and consistent with sustainable development?

Mr Anderson: Departments talk to each other all the time. There tends to be a bit of a myth that departments don't talk to each other all the time about what's going on. But what they don't do is to try and sanction other departments.

Neil Carmichael: That's what I was getting at, though.

Mr Anderson: But it is a Cabinet process of bringing that together so we get a better result. There will be no sanctions for it. It will be a discussion about what is the best way to do it, as far as I can see. However, when it gets to a political level and when it gets to the cabinet committees then those conversations can be fairly brutal, about whether a secretary of state or whether a particular department has followed the policies in mind, whatever the subject is, from health through education through—

Q96  Neil Carmichael: So the enforcement is going to be between Ministers rather than officials?

Mr Anderson: I'm not sure I'd use the word "enforcement". The process is initially in the department, through departments talking to each other through officials and through Ministers. So it's all of it. There will also be the NAO. You talked about—and you are an audit committee—when our policies are being looked at. The NAO are a deeply brutal and effective organisation for ensuring that policies are being designed in the right way and are being carried out in the right way. An enormous scrutiny process goes on already with the NAO, who I think you have access to as well, in terms of their capacity, and who wrote quite a good paper on sustainable development for you in July, I thought.

Q97  Neil Carmichael: If Defra is in charge of pursuing sustainable development, what role do you play in other departments' plan making, delivery and policy making, and so forth?

Mr Anderson: It is the same conversation we just had there I think. We are the keepers of sustainable development in government, and people turn to us to ensure that we are content that they are doing the right thing. We have our various classic, bureaucratic programme boards, sustainable development programme boards, and things that I chair with all other government department officials. Other boards and activities take place across the piece at official level to ensure that those principles are taking place. The challenge will be whether—I think we referred to it at the very beginning—in a time of cutting back on money and a time of all government departments having to focus on managing agendas in a very different way, will we be able to ensure that the principles of sustainable development are still taking place across the piece? I think that's a good challenge for us and for all of government—it's not just for Defra. I think that's something that this Committee, ourselves, and hopefully the politicians most engaged, will be looking at all the time.

Q98  Neil Carmichael: Now let us take planning for example because that's quite an interesting subject: new planning policy, Department of Communities and Local Government launching it. One of the key themes is that Central Government have less to do with planning—you can see my direction of travel here—so, Central Government deliberately says, "Local authorities are in charge". How do you, as Defra, get sustainability driven into plan making at the local level?

Mr Anderson: I think that does redound to the approach of this Coalition Government, as to what they do or don't want to see happening at local level, and there is a deliberate devolving of all activity to local level. That must mean, ipso facto, that there is going to be patchiness in some of these areas. However, all local authorities are going to have to publish what they do; they will still have to share data in the same way. We need to ensure they have access to the evidence, to the capacity that they are aware of the things that we are talking about in relation to sustainable development.

But as I understand the principles of localism and Big Society, we are trusting as well these people to understand better in their local community what it is that is sustainable, better than some Central Government diktat, written by a director general in Defra who has a shared government office with hundreds of other people, trying to second guess what is going on in there. That, as I understand, is the philosophy behind this and, therefore, I wouldn't expect to be centrally diktating or measuring exactly what they're doing. But I think you're right that there is an important question about ensuring they have access to the evidence and the knowledge required to, therefore, be able to do the right thing.

Q99  Neil Carmichael: Also, presumably, there is a leadership function that needs to be applied here, because best example—presumably, emanating from Defra and other departments—needs to be seeping through towards other things. The same logic clearly applies to, let's say, education, because you'd want to be sure that schools and things were assuming the same sort of strategies, wouldn't you?

Mr Anderson: Yes.

Q100  Chair: Can we just ask a little bit about the CSR negotiations and whether or not Defra was involved in those with individual departments?

Mr Anderson: Within, sorry?

Chair: With the individual departments in respect of the Comprehensive Spending Review.

Mr Anderson: In some departments, yes, because, for example, there is a relationship between Communities and Local Government on waste and Defra, so there are some elements of some spending reviews of other government departments. We were involved with the BIS Spending Review because of Regional Development Agencies. We were involved with Communities and Local Government again on the GO Network, and with DFID, for example, in relation to the £100 million we now have of ODA money to be dedicated to international forestry, so yes.

Q101  Zac Goldsmith: Defra is already working on mechanisms for enabling the Government to value ecosystem services. First of all, can you tell me when that is likely to be completed and reported?

Mr Anderson: I don't think I want to make a commitment to a month. It is soon. I think 2011 is the last I've seen of it. It's under the control of our chief scientist, Bob Watson, who is the man driving it mostly—

Zac Goldsmith: Has a date been set?

Mr Anderson: I don't know the answer to that. I can come back to you on whether there is an exact date set. I know we are reaching the latter stages of the national ecosystem assessment.

Q102  Zac Goldsmith: On that, in light of whatever findings are presented, has there been any indication from the Treasury yet that they want to see the Green Book updated to reflect the much broader concerns that we have?

Mr Anderson: The natural value question is a fascinating question for government and how we are going to build that in. The Treasury are in conversations with us about this. We know that the Green Book doesn't quite have all the things that we wanted in, in order to value natural value and our natural environment White Paper is likely to major on this as well.

If you want to talk about Defra having real traction in Whitehall—if you're asking me the best way to set about it, it would be inside the economic argument that's going on in Britain at the minute. That has to be the best way for us to be able to pull the rest of the agenda behind it—sustainable development, bio diversity, all these other areas. The best way is if we get inside: "This is what you should be looking at in economic terms". It also takes you slightly beyond the GDP question that we are asking ourselves now, as to wellbeing indicators and going beyond simply just the GDP. So there's a lot of work going on on that.

Q103  Zac Goldsmith: Yes, you've answered my next question already, thank you. It would be interesting to know, if there was pressure to expand the brief of the Green Book, where should that pressure come from? Who is responsible for deciding on the terms of reference for the Green Book? Is it the Treasury?

Mr Anderson: The Treasury are the Treasury, but there's also a raft of economists out there who are part of the advice to Treasury about the best way to go about this.

Q104  Zac Goldsmith: Will Defra be asked for its opinion on the future of the Green Book?

Mr Anderson: Yes, we are already in discussion on that and we don't think it quite gets there yet and—

Zac Goldsmith: Just for the record, we had a discussion with the SDC at previous sessions and their view, very clearly and unambiguously is that the Green Book needs a complete overhaul. I just wanted to send that message to you. I think we covered those points there.

Q105  Peter Aldous: Sam, what sort of input has CESP had on the Cabinet Office's Efficiency and Reform Group?

Mr Rowbury: What sort of—

Peter Aldous: Has CESP had an input on the Cabinet Office, on the agenda of the Efficiency and Reform Group?

Mr Rowbury: Yes, we are part of the Efficiency and Reform Group so we are feeding into the process as the group gets up and running. We are talking to procurement colleagues about the approaches that are being developed there in centralised procurement. We're talking to estate colleagues, and many of these are the kind of colleagues that we were working with when OGC was without the Cabinet Office. So we are talking to estate colleagues around the Government property vehicle that's being developed, and looking at how we can build sustainability within the new processes and systems that have been set up by the Efficiency and Reform Group.

We can tell a good story around how resource efficiency, energy efficiency and driving out waste within government fit within that efficiency reform story. We can talk about the savings that can be delivered from improving energy efficiency of your building, as well as the carbon savings. That's a good message that you can get, you can take it to Departments and take it to the finance directors, who will be approving some of the investment cases for new technologies or whatever.

Q106  Peter Aldous: Did you have direct input into Philip Green's review of procurement?

Mr Rowbury: The team personally, no, we didn't feed into that, although they did happen to sit right next to us so I know there was some informal dialogue.

Peter Aldous: Was there any particular reason for that or not?

Mr Rowbury: Not particularly, I don't think we were consulted on that. It's not necessarily a natural fit for us. I think where we would start to get involved is in how the recommendations from the review start to get taken forward.

Q107  Peter Aldous: How do you feel that the Efficiency and Reform Group is balancing the sustainability agenda against the whole need to save money?

Mr Rowbury: Well I think they go hand in hand. I think it's the same. I think you can deliver resource efficiency and save money. So the sustainability and the value for money arguments are paralleled.

Q108  Peter Aldous: So you're happy, when it comes to looking at the OGC's procurement policy, that they're not just seeking to save money, they do reflect the need for sustainability as well?

Mr Rowbury: Yes, I think that's fair to say.

Mr Jordan: That is the whole rationale for us to bring this agenda forward from the Cabinet Office.

Q109  Dr Whitehead: Sir Philip Green was appointed to review government efficiency and his focus was on the procurement of goods and services—IT, travel, print and office supplies—no hint of any discussion on sustainability in that review, would that be right to say?

Mr Jordan: The review has been published and Philip Green chose what he decided to look at and how he decided to look at it.

Q110  Dr Whitehead: But did anybody, at any stage, within any of the bodies responsible for sustainable development within government departments, say, "Excuse me, might it be a good idea if we had a hand in this review?" because there does appear to be a rather large hole in it?

Mr Jordan: I didn't seek to influence the outcome of the Philip Green review. The review recommends the centralisation of procurement to save large sums of government money. The centralisation of procurement was a policy objective, to which the new administration was already committed, as you can see from reading its Structural Reform Plan.

So the Philip Green review, in a sense, broadened and deepened the direction of policy travel and we believe that, in relation to the procurement of energy—because we are in fact working extremely closely with the team that is responsible for the procurement of energy in the Cabinet Office—sustainability and value for money will go hand in hand with centralisation.

Q111  Dr Whitehead: I'm a little puzzled by this because it does appear, from what you're saying, that none of the what you might call internal government watchdog functions that we have been discussing today concerning sustainable development, either had a route to participate in this review or indeed had the inclination to suggest that they might. Yet, just two weeks ago, the Minister for the Cabinet Office said, "We are committed to procuring in a way that is sustainable but maintaining a quango is not a guaranteed way to achieve that". So presumably, the alternative way to achieve that was within government departments that had a role, and a function, to oversee the question of sustainability in conjunction with the question of value for money and procurement, for example, but nothing happened in that respect.

Mr Jordan: We are committed to procuring sustainably. We were committed to procuring sustainably before the Philip Green review and we are still committed to procuring sustainably today.

Dr Whitehead: Yes, I accept that, but when a great big review turns up about the whole question of government procurement, concerning which sustainability—I would imagine, indeed on commitment—should be a substantial issue, none of that commitment appeared to be forthcoming, as far as the involvement or even a suggestion that they should be involved in that review, by any government body that is committed to sustainability in procurement.

Mr Jordan: I had the pleasure of attending a lunchtime session, at which Sir Philip Green outlined, to a number of commercial directors across Whitehall, his emergent conclusions, so I did have a degree of engagement with the review. Had I felt that the review was going to affect, in any adverse way, our commitment to sustainable procurement, I therefore had the opportunity to raise that question. As it was, it broadened and deepened the existing direction of quality travel and I don't think there is anything that should have been done otherwise in relation to the review.

Dr Whitehead: But there is already in existence the Green Book on sustainable procurement within OGC. Sorry, a guide to green procurement and a guidance for procurement officers relating to government procurement that is produced by the OGC.

Mr Jordan: We have published a fair amount of guidance over the years including a leaflet, called Buy Green and Make a Difference, which explains how to procure in a sustainable manner within the framework of the EU procurement directives.

Q112  Dr Whitehead: CESP presumably would have a role in looking at the extent to which that leaflet, for example, might not be completely cancelled out by other guidelines about how procurement might work as far as, say, Treasury considerations are concerned?

Mr Jordan: At the time that we published that leaflet, which was written within the CESP, we were part of the Treasury group and there was no question, whatever, but that this was the policy of the Government of the day across every government department.

Q113  Dr Whitehead: I think the thrust of my question would be—following on from what appears to be the non-involvement of anybody concerning sustainability with the Green review—what power or authority would CESP have in, for example, at the very least, ensuring that procurement guides have a balance within them, say, between saving money and sustainability? Indeed there have been criticisms of the OGC's sustainability guidelines, inasmuch as they appear to be entirely cancelled out by other guidelines that also exist for procurement officers, which seem to suggest the opposite of what the Green guidance documents suggest. Would CESP have any role in that or would OGC simply say, "Go away, you're part of our department, don't rock the boat"?

Mr Jordan: I would be very interested to see, and I would encourage other departments to draw to my attention, anything that they felt cancelled out any guidance that I was about to publish or that was standing guidance. As far as I'm concerned, guidance I've published is guidance for government and there is nothing I am aware of that cancels out any guidance that I have published.

Q114  Chair:, I am very conscious of the time, we have a few short quick questions before we need to close our session. You have talked quite extensively about the role of Defra, but wouldn't the Cabinet Office be the better place to hold Ministers to account on this cross-cutting agenda?

Mr Anderson: That is a very good question, Chair, and the Secretary of State, I think, is a good person to ask next week as to her view. I think she wants to see personal leadership from herself. She is committed to that. But we will need support from other government Ministers, key government Ministers. As I've said before, Oliver Letwin is deeply engaged on it. Again, I don't think it matters because it's about embedding the agenda across the whole of Whitehall.

Q115  Chair: In terms of embedding it, I'm still not sure that we have the evidence, or understand the evidence, that Defra is best placed to influence and hold Ministers to account in other departments. How would you say that Defra is able to do that?

Mr Anderson: Again, I think that goes back to some of the conversations we've had. I don't think it's Defra holding to account, and I don't think that's the way that this Government wants to do it. It is about every government department being held to account democratically by the data it's putting out, and it's also about the processes that we're going to put in place. There are still open questions. Hopefully the Secretary of State will have some of those answers next week because we're right on the brink of: are we going to have an approach in one of the committees or are we going to embed it in a different way? So maybe next week she will be able to talk to you a bit more about how it's going to work across government.

Q116  Chair: We will wait until next week. But can I just ask: there have been reports of a new Cabinet committee for sustainable development, might we know what that is by next week or—

Mr Anderson: I don't think that—I have to be careful because I'll probably be wrong—is likely to be the favoured answer because we've tried that before and it didn't work, I think, Chair.

Q117  Chair: So where have those plans got to, have they been shelved?

Mr Anderson: They haven't been shelved. I don't think that's the favoured option because what happens is it becomes an add-on again. You get sustainable development Ministers looking at sustainable development and not looking at the whole picture. So, when you say should the things be in the centre, they should be in the whole central process, and that's the likely direction that we're going to go, rather than have a group of Ministers over here to decide, looking at it, I think.

Q118  Dr Whitehead: Are you considering any new statutory obligations to require either departments or public bodies to achieve their sustainable development targets, or rather is anybody, to your knowledge, considering new statutory obligations?

Mr Anderson: No.

Dr Whitehead: That is off the agenda?

Mr Anderson: It's not on any agenda that I've seen. I know Wales do it but we don't.

Q119  Dr Whitehead: How are local decisions on sustainable development—not the actual decisions themselves but the cumulative impacts of those decisions—being monitored? I noted that you mentioned earlier that local authority action may be, shall we say, patchy but I think you would agree, nevertheless, that those patchy actions will have a cumulative impact. How would that monitoring happen?

Mr Anderson: Yes, cumulative impact goes back to Mr Goldsmith's question as well, in relation to natural value and the wellbeing indicators. I think we do have to try and have a system in place. Essentially it's the whole government system approach as to a cumulative impact and we have that internationally, in the sense that's what they're trying to do next for the next Rio Plus Summit. I think we have to find a way, in the United Kingdom, of looking at the cumulative impact of all government departments' policies. I think that is a huge challenge that has never been fully cracked anyway. If you were to ask me whether the SDC do that, no, I don't think that they could. They could help identify gaps—and I think they did that from time to time—but I think it's a much bigger issue than that.

Dr Whitehead: But you could perhaps do that, and indeed it has been done in the past through the Audit Commission, for example.

Mr Anderson: You could try all sorts of different ways of doing it I think.

Q120  Dr Whitehead: But with the abolition of the Audit Commission, would you accept that one of the areas of ability to do that has now been taken away and, therefore, your—

Mr Anderson: I wouldn't comment on that. I think that the Public Affairs Committee would probably think that they were also engaged in looking across the piece as well. So I think there are a number of bodies that have that capacity. I think we have moved from bureaucratic accountability to democratic accountability—I think is the expression—and therefore, it is about people being held to account across the piece rather than by bureaucrats looking at bits of paper, I think.

Q121  Dr Whitehead: How would democratic accountability exactly add up with cumulative impacts of local—

Mr Anderson: I think, ultimately, a country probably knows whether it's sustainable development.

Q122  Dr Whitehead: Would it be done by a vote or—

Mr Anderson: Well ultimately, I suppose that's always the measure. I suppose, ultimately to measure whether a government has achieved sustainable development will be, indeed, whether the people feel that sustainable development has been achieved. That is a question that all governments at all times face.

Q123  Peter Aldous: Yes perhaps, up to now, there has been a view that the concept of sustainable development needs to be driven out on, what I would call, a "top down" basis. From what you've seen of local government and local communities, do you think the "bottom up" process might work and might work better?

Mr Anderson: I think that it is worth trying because both are likely to be patchy, because you can't get everything from central diktat, and you can't get everything from local activity, so we do have to be brave enough to change the game, as we're going through this, and where we see problems there are problems; whether a local community is the best place to make a decision about its local wind farm is a good question.

We will have to have some national intervention at some moments in time and it's getting those parameters right. Planning is one of the key areas. I think, as Mr Carmichael was saying. If you get planning right what are the national parameters of planning on sustainable development? Then, within those parameters, the local area should be able to make its decision about what looks best. I think that is where we're trying to go.

Chair: There we must leave this I'm afraid. May I just thank all three of you for coming along. It has been an illuminating session, and we look forward to the second round when we see the Secretary of State in due course.


 
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