2 Changing the sustainability architecture
9. There are a number of public bodies involved in
developing sustainable development in policy-making and in monitoring
the sustainability of Government operations:
- The Department for Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is responsible for developing Government
policy on sustainable development across the UK (the devolved
administrations also have their own strategies).
- The Chief Sustainability Officer
and the Centre of Expertise in Sustainable Procurement (CESP),
both in the Office of Government Commerce in the Cabinet Office,
collate data from departments on performance against targets for
sustainable operations and sustainable procurement.
- The Sustainable Development
Commission acts as an independent watchdog and advisor, scrutinising
the UK Government's progress on implementing the Sustainable Development
Strategy. Using the data on sustainable management of the Government
estate, collected by CESP, the SDC also advises Government and
reports each year on the sustainability of the Government's operations.
The SDC describe their work under four headings:
- Advocacyraising awareness
of the concept of sustainable development and responding to Government
- Capacity buildingestablishing
good working relationships with and between key parts of Government,
and developing skills in departments.
- Policy and advicedrawing
on expert opinion to provide evidence-based advice to Government.
iv. Watchdogmonitoring performance against
targets and reporting on these.
10. These bodies oversee the following key processes:
- The 2005 Sustainable Development
Strategy required each Government department and its executive
agencies to prepare Sustainable Development Action Plans (SDAPs).
These Plans were to set out how each department would implement
the commitments in the Strategy and how they would contribute
to sustainable development more broadly. The SDC assist departments
in preparing SDAPs. Departments and executive agencies are required
to produce annual reports to demonstrate the progress they have
made against their Plans.
- Operational and procurement
targets are provided for departments under the Sustainable Operations
on the Government Estate (SOGE) assessment framework, now retitled
the Sustainable Development in Government framework.
These include indicators on emissions, energy efficiency, recycling
and water usage. The targets currently cover the operations of
the central Government estate, but their scope is expected to
be extended (paragraph 51). The Centre of Expertise in Sustainable
Procurement (CESP) collects information on performance against
the targets, and the SDC prepares annual reports on departments'
- Departments evaluate policy
proposals through impact assessments and follow the Treasury's
guidance on investment appraisal, both of which should address
sustainable development issues (paragraph 44).
SDC cuts and risks
11. On 22 July 2010, Rt Hon. Caroline Spelman MP,
the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs,
announced that the Government would cease funding the SDC at the
end of this financial year. She also gave a commitment to greater
Defra and Department of Energy and Climate Change leadership on
I am not willing simply to delegate this responsibility
to an external body. I have accordingly decided that I will withdraw
Defra funding from the Sustainable Development Commission at the
end of the current financial year, and instead take a personal
lead, with an enhanced departmental capability and presence.
12. The Prime Minister has committed to make this
government 'the greenest ever',
to 'govern for the long-term' by creating a 'fairer future'
and to promote a 'power shift' by redistributing power away from
central government to communities and people.
These are admirable pro-sustainability ambitions, but in the absence
of the SDC it is unclear how these goals will be implemented and
monitored, or how responsibility for the necessary actions will
be distributed between departments. The SDC provides a means of
joining up policy thinking and promoting best practice across
Government through its capacity-building programmes and sustainable
development network events. In reviewing departments' SDAPs and
annual Sustainable Operations on the Government Estate reports,
the SDC also plays a primary role in monitoring and reporting
on the greening of Government operations.
13. The rationale for effectively dispensing with
the SDC appears to be to reduce and reallocate expenditure, and
to change the leadership of sustainable development. The Secretary
of State told us that the funding cut for the SDC was based on
a decision to remove arms length scrutiny and take more control
of the sustainability agenda. The Prime Minister told the Liaison
Committee that the decision was made to reserve funding for other
In terms of the Sustainable Development Commission,
what we have tried to do, in a difficult spending round, is to
put money into things that will make a differencelike the
green deal, like carbon capture and storage, and like a green
investment bank, which will have real money to spendrather
than have quite so much monitoring and evaluation.
Defra note in their responses to the UN's questionnaires
for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2012 ('Rio
Current financial restraints have impacted on the
support central government is able to contribute to the UK SDC.
The UK is currently working to see how we can continue to ensure
SD remains at the heart of Government.
14. Whatever the overriding impetus to end the SDC's
funding, there are risks attached to the decision:
- The financial consequences:
the balance between cost reductions (from no longer funding the
SDC) and savings forgone (from departments' improved performance
as a result of the SDC's support). The SDC budget for 2010-11
is £4.5million, funded by contributions from Defra, the Devolved
Administrations and a range of other departments. The Sustainable
Development Commission has calculated that it has helped Government
save money by teaching departments how to operate more sustainably
and how to deliver more sustainable policy. Andrew Lee, the SDC
chief executive, told us that the value of the benefits from better
management of carbon, energy, travel, waste and water in 2008-09
can be estimated at between £62.3 million and £66.1
million, although these savings do not take account of the expenditure
required to deliver them and it is impossible to assign the savings
solely to SDC activities.
- During a period of real-term
contraction in Government expenditure, with budgets in most departments
being reduced in the current year onwards, departments might understandably
focus on the short term rather than policy solutions optimised
for the longer term horizon of sustainable development. The linkages
between sustainability and procurement savings were not identified
in Sir Philip Green's review of cost savings for Government, despite
both areas falling within the Cabinet Office's remit (the Efficiency
and Reform Group within the Cabinet Office oversaw the Green Review,
and CESP, also within the Cabinet Office, advises on sustainable
- A greater focus by the Government
on empowering local communities, and putting greater responsibility
on local authorities for tasks which impinge particularly on sustainable
development. This is evident in the Government's responses to
our predecessor Committee's reports on air quality
and adapting to climate change.
The Decentralisation and Localism Bill will reform the planning
system to give local people new powers to shape development in
And the Public Health white paper envisages local authorities'
directors of public health taking the lead on driving health improvement
locally, using ring-fenced health improvement budgets to improve
health and well-being in their communities.
At the same time, the abolition of the Audit Commission before
2012-13, whatever its implications for the efficiency and burden
of audits for local authorities, may make it harder for central
governmentand Parliament to assess the extent of
sustainable development across the wider public sector.
In the SDC's absence the Government will need to
provide the strategy, leadership and resources required to improve
progress on sustainable development in all areas of government.
produced a sustainable development 'Action Plan' in November 2010,
which set out how it would make its operations and procurement
more sustainable. 
The Government must now set out a clear architecture for sustainable
development, which describes how these goals will be implemented
and monitored, and how responsibility for the necessary actions
will be distributed between departments. We
consider the need for a new Sustainable Development Strategy in
Part 4. Over the life of this Parliament we will monitor the consequences
of the Government's decision to cut funding for the SDC and monitor
Government performance in maintaining progress towards sustainable
operations and procurement and embedding sustainability into wider
Impact on the devolved administrations
15. The SDC performs a similar scrutiny and advisory
role for the Scottish Government, the Welsh Assembly Government
and the Northern Ireland Executive. The devolved administrations
are part-owners of the company which is the SDC. As a result,
the Defra cuts in funding for the SDC will impact on the devolved
Without Defra's support, the remaining funding for the SDC provided
by the administrations will not be enough to maintain a viable
SDC on a smaller scale.
16. No assessment of the impacts on these part-owner
administrations was made before Defra's initial decision to remove
its funding. The Secretary of State and her officials explained
that there were discussions with the administrations before a
'final' decision was taken, and that at that time the devolved
administrations did not "raise a major objection" with
the decision. We
raised this with the devolved administrations. The Scottish Government
told us that they would have preferred that Defra had not withdrawn
funding from the SDC.
The Welsh Assembly Government announced 'disappointment' with
the Secretary of State's decision.
The Northern Ireland Executive wrote, stating:
We are disappointed with Defra's decision to withdraw
funding from the SDC. Progression and achievement of sustainable
development does by its very nature, both in principle and in
practice, require unilateral understanding and co-operation across
and between Governments.
We are unhappy with the way that
the Government has consulted with the devolved administrations
on the impacts to this shared body. We recognise that sustainable
development is a devolved matter and that as a consequence the
UK Government is entitled to develop and deliver policy independently.
However, decisions which impinge on a shared strategy should not
be undertaken lightly or unilaterally.
7 The previous Government committed to revise the Sustainable
Operations on the Government Estate framework in March 2010 and
renamed it the Sustainable Development in Government (SDiG) framework. Back
HC Deb, 22 July 2010, col 32WS Back
Oral evidence taken before the Liaison Committee on 18 November
2010, HC 608-i, Q 77 Back
Not published Back
Ev 82 Back
Efficiency Review by Sir Philip Green, Key Findings and Recommendations:
Government response to the Environmental Audit Committee's Third
Report of Session 2009-10, Cm 7966, November 2010 Back
Government response to the Environmental Audit Committee's Fourth
Report of Session 2009-10, Cm 7933, August 2010 Back
CLG, Decentralisation and the Localism Bill: an essential guide,
December 2010 Back
Department of Health, Equality and excellence: Liberating the
NHS, Cm 7881, July 2010; Department of Health, Healthy
lives, healthy people, November 2010 Back
Defra, An Action Plan for driving sustainable operations and
procurement across government , November 2010 Back
Ev w79 Back
Ev w79 Back
Oral evidence taken before the Environmental Audit Committee on
10 November 2010, HC 576, Q 7 Back
Ev w79 Back
Welsh Assembly Government, Written Statement on sustainable development
scheme, 22 July 2010 Back
Ev w79 Back