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

3 Making Government Sustainable

17. The Government has not yet announced whether or how it might undertake specific tasks in place of the SDC . They have confirmed, however, that they will not undertake any of the SDC's watchdog function.[27] We have taken evidence from a range of organisations on how the architecture for embedding sustainable development in government should be improved and how the gap left by the SDC in its roles as advocate, capacity-builder and watchdog should best be filled.

18. Our analysis below is grouped under themes identified by the SDC and other witnesses as areas for action: leadership, tools and processes for policy makers, and scrutiny. Action in each of these areas will be required to embed sustainability across Government.

Work of the SDC

19. The SDC's most recent review of the departments' Sustainable Operations on the Government Estate performance, for 2008-09, notes that Government accelerated its rate of improvement from 2007-08 to 2008-09, to the point where it was 'on track for, or had already met, most operational targets'.[28] Departments are still not showing sufficient progress against a range of mandated mechanisms, including BREEAM targets,[29] certified environmental management systems and Carbon Trust targets.[30] As for sustainable development in policy-making, the SDC noted that:

Government has had mixed success in embedding sustainable development into policy and decision-making processes. This is partly due to weak governance arrangements.[31]

The SDC has achieved much in making Government operations and procurement more sustainable. Their disappearance will leave gaps in a number of processes, including reporting on Government sustainable operations and monitoring departmental action plans. However, the tools and mechanisms they have developed have not been enough in themselves to embed sustainable development fully into Government policy making. For that to happen requires political will and so far, the SDC told us, there has not been the pressure from the top of Government or sufficient incentives for policy-makers to engage with sustainable development to the required level.[32]

20. In giving evidence to the Committee, the SDC were keen to stress the importance of working with Government departments from the inside to improve their performance as part of the SDC's watchdog function. They argued that without this close involvement and shadowing, Government progress would still be difficult to achieve. Minas Jacob from the SDC explained how this worked:

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.[33]

The SDC told us that their watchdog function is undertaken by a team of seven people, but around 20 policy and research analysts work with departments to help develop policy.

21. The SDC's approach to building capacity in a handful of departments, by embedding their staff within those departments, has achieved results. Departments have told us that they found this SDC work very helpful and that it has contributed to improved sustainability performance. The Department of Health noted that the SDC had embedded staff to work closely with its policy makers to promote greenhouse gas emissions reductions. SDC staff had undertaken a review of how well the Department's policy machinery prioritises the incorporation of sustainable development, which had led it to establish a sustainable development team in-house. Flora Goldhill from the Department of Health noted in particular that:

[...][the SDC] helped us interpret what we do in the language of sustainability. As the SDC have just said, you often don't realise that you are talking about sustainability when you're talking about particular things, but we have found them an extremely valuable partner and we've learned a huge amount from them. We believe we are on the way to embedding what we've learned. We've particularly valued the fact that they've embedded in the department one of their team, who has really worked with departmental colleagues, to help them understand the sustainability agenda and present it in a way that's helpful to broader understanding.[34]

The Department told us that it now had a greater understanding of the interaction between health inequalities and sustainable development, and was addressing climate change and other environmental problems as critical issues for future public health and not solely issues of NHS estates management.[35]

22. The Department for Education told us that advisers from the SDC had worked alongside its staff to build capacity and understanding of sustainable development, and identify how the Department's policies could help to underpin sustainable development and also in turn be enhanced by taking a sustainable approach.[36] The arrangement had allowed the Department to develop a 'sustainable schools' programme, though the SDC thought the future of this initiative was now uncertain.[37]

23. The SDC has piloted a 'sustainability assessment' in the Department for Work and Pensions, to see how far sustainability performance could be improved across the whole of its operations and policy making. DWP told us that the assessment had made clear that there remains room for improvement in embedding sustainability within the Department's policy-making, and that it believed that there would have been value in the SDC continuing this strand of work in other key departments.[38]

24. The Government has not committed to continuing the SDC's capacity building work, by for example embedding Defra staff in departments or undertaking further department-wide 'sustainability assessments'. The SDC has promoted sustainable development effectively through this work and has developed experience in this area which is at risk of being lost. There is still much to be done in developing capability across all departments. The Government must ensure that the SDC's experience is transferred into Government and that it continues to work with departments to develop the capability needed by all departments to improve their sustainability performance.


25. Sustainable development, as with any discipline, benefits from having effective leadership. The Government, in ending its funding for the SDC, has indicated that it will bring leadership in-house. The extent of the challenge for the Government's leadership role depends on the extent to which sustainable development is already embedded in departments' actions.


26. Research by Professor Andrew Jordan and Dr Duncan Russel has found that efforts to integrate environmental factors into all stages of government policy making has suffered from a lack of sustained high-level support, particularly from ministers in 'non-environmental' ministries, central departments (the Treasury and Cabinet Office) and senior civil servants.[39] They noted that it has been left to Defra to push forward the sustainable development agenda within Whitehall, but that Defra is without the power to compel other departments to appraise policy for potential environmental impacts. They concluded that a lack of political support is reflected by a lack of resources dedicated to this across departments.

27. Sustainable development needs to be driven from the centre of Government by a minister and department capable of three things:

  • being able to provide the necessary vision for sustainable development and to encourage real commitment throughout Government;
  • ensuring action, by holding all departments to account for their sustainable development performance; and
  • providing leadership, gluing together the vision and the action.

28. Defra and the SDC have between them provided the vision for sustainable development in Government. The evidence we took in this inquiry has not raised significant concerns about the vision, but rather the leadership of the concept and ensuring its practical implementation across Government.

29. Barry Gardiner MP, in his capacity as Vice Chair of GLOBE UK, told the Committee that creating a ministerial position within a country's Finance Ministry, with responsibility for managing its 'natural wealth', was the best way to ensure that all government departments take responsibility for the impact of their policies and programmes on a country's 'natural capital'.[40] He argued that the control of funds is the surest way to shape decision making:[41]

We all know in our own experience as legislators that the control of the purse, the control of revenue, is absolutely critical. That's why we believe that it is absolutely essential that this is something that is mainlined into the heart of Government at the Treasury.

When we put GLOBE's analysis to Defra's Mike Anderson, he thought that "the Treasury would be the perfect place to drive a sustainable development agenda from". [42]

30. The Treasury exerts a degree of control over other departments that no other department does. In the last two Comprehensive Spending Reviews, in 2007 and 2010, the Treasury required efficiency savings from departments and ensured compliance simply by subtracting the required negotiated savings from department's budgets at the outset. Defra officials told us that they have not considered the possibility of applying sanctions on departments for poor performance on sustainable development. The Treasury, however, unlike Defra, is in a position to apply real sanctions, if it so chose, including financial sanctions. It could, for example, withhold a proportion of a department's budget if its sustainable operations performance lagged, or withhold approval for infrastructure programmes if the impact assessment inadequately addressed sustainable development issues.

31. The Treasury, as the department responsible for deciding on the use of accounting standards in government accounts, is already leading work (started in 2008) on introducing sustainability reporting for 2011-12 accounts onward. This will bring together details of expenditure and performance on carbon reduction, waste management and the use of finite resources, in departments' annual reports and accounts.

32. There is much then to commend making the Treasury the lead department for sustainable development. But there are also dangers in doing so. Charles Seaford from the New Economics Foundation told us:

[...] although you can reduce everything to an economic calculation, when you're looking at the long term, it becomes increasingly difficult because there's more and more uncertainty as you look out beyond the short term and medium term perspective. In the process of deciding what to do, you can no longer rely purely upon that kind of economic analysis. That is the reason why we were proposing a unit outside the Treasury [...] I believe there is a need for people to take a different strategic perspective that doesn't reduce to the 'certain' analysis that economists tend to favour. [...][43]

Putting the lead role in the Treasury:

[...] would have to be handled with great care, to make sure that the whole process isn't captured by the existing Treasury view [...] of the world. [...] Why doesn't the economics take into account the environment, which it should? There are a number of reasons. Firstly, because the discipline of environmental economics is relatively new compared with the discipline of economics as a whole; it just takes time for these to filter through. That's one reason. I think there's a second point though, which is that the environment is more difficult; there's less certainty and there's a theological certainty about the core of micro-economics that is very emotionally satisfying.[44]

33. Charles Seaford suggested that a Cabinet Office minister should have overall responsibility for ensuring sustainability because of the Cabinet Office's central position. He added there should be a dedicated unit serving the minister, to develop a long term strategy, to monitor performance against that strategy and to co-ordinate and engage with all those whose support will be needed for implementation.[45] Sustainability East told us that placing the function in a single issue department (as now in Defra) reinforces the misconception that sustainable development is solely an environmental issue, rather than, crucially, also an economic and social one. The Cabinet Office, they concluded, would be more suited to lead on this.[46] UK Environmental Law Foundation argued that the Cabinet Office proximity to the Prime Minister would further suit it to the task.[47]

34. While Defra has the expertise to help departments become more sustainable, it is not the best place from which to drive improved sustainable development performance across Government. After many years with the policy lead in this area, a different approach now needs to be taken, to provide greater political leadership for the sustainable development agenda. A new minister for sustainable development, ideally in the Cabinet Office, would provide a more effective base for driving action in departments.

35. An enhanced Cabinet Office role on sustainable development would need access to specialists and expertise to advise it and other departments on how sustainability could be better embedded in their decision making. Existing sustainable development experience in Defra should be transferred into the Cabinet Office, allowing it to assess the sustainability of departments' policy proposals, Business Plans and operational and procurement practices.

36. A Cabinet Office lead would also need a Treasury ready to play a more committed supporting role, to use the sustainable development levers at its disposal. Treasury buy-in to the sustainable development agenda is essential. It is in a position to exert real influence over other departments, including the possible use of sanctions against poor sustainability performers.


37. Defra commissioned a survey of sustainable development practitioners from across Government, which reported in 2010.[48] Though the survey found that the majority of stakeholders felt Defra was championing sustainable development 'fairly' to 'very well', it also highlighted a number of areas for improvement. In particular it found that Defra's efforts in this area were felt to be hampered by a perceived lack of influence within Whitehall and that Defra's ability to successfully champion sustainable development is felt by most to rest on having stronger support from the highest levels in government.

38. The benefit of high level leadership is clear in the response to the Prime Minister's commitment for central Government to cut emissions by 10% in one year, by May 2011.[49] The long-standing SOGE framework has included a target to reduce carbon emissions from Government offices by 12.5% by 2010-11, relative to 1999-00 levels, and against that target a 10% reduction was only achieved by 2008-09.[50] The Prime Minister's latest target is on top of that earlier cut. His involvement has seen this latest target treated as a priority for departments and all expect to achieve at least the 10% reductions within the year.[51]

39. On the wider sustainable development front, the SDC have regarded the lack of central leadership as a major barrier. They told us that ineffective leadership or inconsistent leadership from the highest level has held back progress. The SDC argued that this leadership needs to come from the Prime Minister and the Cabinet who in turn need to hold departments to account. They also argued for greater engagement from Cabinet level ministers to promote sustainability across Government. Andrew Lee noted:

I 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 department.[52]

40. There is currently no forum for meaningful ministerial discussion of sustainable development. This is a cross-cutting issue that is affected by policies from across government that requires cross-departmental involvement at the highest level. There has been no Government assessment to date of the effectiveness of the governance arrangements for sustainable development. The 'Sustainable Development Ministers' were established in 2005, as a re-branding of the Green Ministers group. Sustainable development ministers were nominated for every department to act as the ministerial lead on sustainable development within their particular department. The ministers convened as a Cabinet sub-committee chaired by a Defra minister. The SDC told us that, despite Defra's efforts, the lack of a clear mandate for the group and mechanisms to enact change meant that it failed to meet regularly and never got off the ground. In a cabinet reshuffle in 2008, sustainable development became a part of the remit of the Environment and Energy sub-committee of the Cabinet Committee for Economic Development. This created the risk of wider sustainability issues becoming secondary to economic interests.[53] Since then, policy on sustainable development has not been overseen by a designated ministerial committee.

41. The Secretary of State for environment food and rural affairs has recently discussed with the Deputy Prime Minister the role that the Home Affairs Cabinet Committee can play in achieving sustainability right across Government.[54] The inclusion of sustainable development on its agenda would be welcome, but the Home Affairs Cabinet Committee is not the best place to address this issue. A cabinet committee dedicated to sustainable development, with appropriate terms of reference and composed of senior ministers from across Government, could be set up to provide a forum to spread the views of the leading sustainable development minister and the sustainable development team across Government and to track policies in each department.

42. Top level political leadership must be brought to bear, and the Government should consider how it could add such new impetus to the sustainable development agenda. A new Cabinet Office minister for sustainable development and the Prime Minister could be in the driving seat, and to encapsulate that high level commitment a Cabinet Committee with terms of reference addressing sustainable development should be established to oversee departmental performance and encourage more sustainable decision making across Whitehall. This would include Ministers from all departments, the new minister for sustainable development and perhaps the Prime Minister .

The 'Green Book' and tools for sustainable decision making

43. Understanding and accounting for the cost to the environment and to society in the long term is the best way to embed sustainable development principles in policy making. For this to happen, the right tools and incentives need to be in place for decision makers.

44. Departments have to produce impact assessments which explore these costs and to follow the Treasury's guidance on investment appraisal (the Treasury's 'Green Book'). Core to an impact assessment is an economic assessment of a proposal's costs and benefits in accordance with the Green Book methodology. In addition to the Green Book itself, there is a wide range of supplementary guidance on specific issues such as risk and optimism-bias and specific detailed guidance for use when applying Green Book principles to environmental considerations.

45. The SDC told the Committee that policy makers regard the current Treasury guidance on sustainability assessments as confusing and difficult to use and that the 'sustainability impact test' is seen only as an add-on to the economic assessment. They consider that the 'Green Book' needs to be overhauled so that sustainable development is at its core.[55] The SDC also called for impact assessments and the Green Book to take greater regard of two particular concepts: valuing ecosystems and the services they provide, and valuing social impacts (for example, health benefits, social mobility and disadvantage to particular sections of society).[56]

46. In late 2008, the Government Economic Service launched a review of the economics of sustainability, led by Defra's chief economist. The final report of the review was published in July 2010. It notes that significant progress has been made on providing new guidance for impact assessments and increasing the scope of environmental valuation. The report also discusses the scope for incorporating social capital and social impacts into policy appraisal, and for linking consideration of sustainability, wellbeing and economic growth. Taking forward the conclusions of the review, a new cross-Government analytical group, the Social Impacts Task Force, has also been set up to investigate the incorporation of social impacts and social capital into impact analysis. The Task Force's remit includes developing guidance for departments in these areas.[57]

47. In light of the findings from the Government Economic Service review, Defra has committed itself in its Business Plan to 'revise guidance on impact assessments, the Green Book and other policy appraisal guidance to take account of sustainability and the value of nature' by April 2011.[58] (This is expected to coincide with publication of a new Natural Environment White Paper which will provide further policy proposals on valuing natural capital.) The Treasury, which is responsible for the Green Book, does not have such a commitment in its own Business Plan, which might perhaps raise a concern if the Treasury were the lead department on sustainable development (paragraph 32).

48. The Government must complete its work without delay to integrate the findings of the Government Economics Service review of the economics of sustainable development into impact assessments and the Treasury's Green Book. The Government should provide a commitment that the Treasury's ongoing review of the Green Book will fully reflect these ideas, and that once revised the Treasury will monitor compliance by departments.

49. The social aspects of sustainable development need to be taken into account. The Social Task Force needs to deliver tools for embedding this in policy appraisal, and the Treasury must support this work and give a commitment to apply it.

Performance management

50. Targets and indicators are necessary to monitor progress by departments and to drive performance improvements. The most important of these are the SOGE targets for departments' operations and procurement, and a set of broader Sustainable Development Indicators.


51. The Government's sustainability targets deal mostly with Government operations and procurement. These include targets for energy and water efficiency, recycling and waste reduction. The SOGE targets reporting process provides the mechanism to collect, monitor and report on this information. Data is collated by CESP and then analysed and reported on by the SDC.[59] The Environmental Audit Committee has routinely examined these processes and targets, and has repeatedly called for the coverage of the targets to be extended to cover more of the Government's work and more of its estate.[60]

52. The targets only capture a small proportion of the Government's estate and in some cases they are not tailored to the work of departments. The current SOGE framework applies to the UK-based operations of all central government departments and their executive agencies. The targets largely exclude the overseas estate, the devolved administrations and the wider public sector (local government, NHS trusts, police forces and educational establishments).

53. In our last report on this issue, we recommended that 'the SOGE Framework must aim to cover the environmental impacts of all government business. Targets for sustainable operations must be applied as widely as possible, and the reporting of performance against them must be made mandatory'.[61] The SDC saw an urgent necessity for operations and procurement targets to be extended to non-departmental public bodies, outsourced operations and suppliers. It concluded that the Government's ongoing review of these targets needs to look at tailoring targets to the work of departments, and Government needs to apply these targets beyond the central government estate.[62]

54. The SDC anticipate that the new SOGE framework being developed by Defra will extend coverage to non-departmental public bodies, as well as capture a wider scope of carbon emissions and more detail on water usage and waste. They believe there is still scope, however, for an even wider range of reporting, noting that supply chain impacts may remain largely uncovered by the new framework.[63]

55. Departments have been calling for the reporting process to be speeded up and better integrated with existing environmental targets. The Department for Education told us that sustainable development targets should be more relevant to individual departmental aims and objectives, and should go beyond measurements for the central estate to include departments' influence on the wider public sector. This could mirror and be integrated into the existing departmental carbon budgets, which make departments accountable for carbon emissions reductions in the industry sectors over which they have policy responsibilities. The Department also argued that SDC assessments have been something of a tick-box exercise. The processes have not allowed for differences in the maturity of understanding of sustainability between departments or the degree to which that understanding is embedded in departmental policy-making. The Department for Education wanted reporting to be embedded within departments' annual reports.[64] The Department of Health called for a more streamlined reporting process, with a single reporting system that included data on all aspects of a department's property performance, including carbon budgets and the Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme as well as SOGE.[65]

56. Departments have complained about the time that is taken for SOGE data to be published. The Department for Work and Pensions criticised the protracted intervals between the reporting period, the subsequent reporting and then the SDC assessment which could be up to two years out of date when published.[66] Mike Anderson, from Defra, also highlighted the protracted nature of the reporting process, which he regarded as overly bureaucratic and complicated. He said it had "become a bit of an industry, rather than focussing on the things that matter".[67]

57. The Government is reorganising the administration of the SOGE framework, and from 2011-12 a new system will replace the SOGE targets. This provides an opportunity, which the Government should grasp, to deliver the improvements in the coverage of the SOGE framework called for by the SDC, and to make the streamlining improvements sought by individual departments.

58. There are currently no sanctions for a department's failure to achieve a required level of performance against sustainability targets, and as a result there is a lack of pressure from anyone but the SDC to push departments to achieve the targets. Giving the lead role on sustainable development to the Cabinet Office, with committed support from the Treasury, as we have recommended above, could make it easier to bring such pressure to bear.


59. A set of 68 high level Government indicators are used to measure broader sustainability concerns affecting society including health, housing, jobs, crime, education and the environment. These aim to provide an overview of progress across a number of themes: sustainable consumption and production, climate change and energy, protecting natural resources and enhancing the environment, and creating sustainable communities. These 'Sustainable Development Indicators' were established in the 2005 Sustainable Development Strategy to measures progress across the UK, going beyond the impact of only departments' operations and procurement. The Strategy also provides 20 higher level 'framework indicators' intended to give an overview of progress. The latest measurement of these indicators, in 2009, found four had improved, one had worsened, twelve had showed a mixed performance or no progress, but for three there were insufficient data to report.

60. The value of these indicators has been questioned by a range of organisations.[68] In some cases the targets are un-measurable and in many cases there is no link between the targets and the policies which might influence performance, nor any means of acting against failure to meet targets. Dr Duncan Russel told us that indicators have not been successful at steering policy because it has been difficult to attribute outcomes to policy initiatives. To do this, an indicator set needs to be concurrently linked to an analysis of what has caused the change.[69] These targets must be revised in an ongoing and iterative way so that performance against them can be linked to specific policies and actions, and so that they can be used to inform decision making.

61. The long-standing ambition to measure well-being, one of the high level indicators, has not been fully realised, leaving a gap in any overall measurement of sustainable development. The need to measure well-being is gaining recognition internationally, and within the UK. The Stiglitz Commission for President Sarkozy recommended that assessing sustainability requires a well-defined set of indicators to supplement a current focus on Gross Domestic Product.[70] Any measurement of well-being needs to be able to be used to advise policy and to provide an understanding of the policy which produces the observed changes in well-being. Halina Ward, from the Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development, cautioned that any indicator to measure sustainable development must go just beyond a measure of 'happiness'. The process of gathering the indicators of quality of life or well-being needs to encourage people to think carefully about their responses, to distinguish between broader well-being and the satisfaction of immediate material needs.[71]

62. Government must introduce a full set of indicators to measure sustainable development, including well-being, that can be used to develop policy. The Committee welcomes the Prime Minister's initiative to explore how a measure for this might be generated. But this must be done in a way that fully takes account of sustainable development principles ('happiness' may not always reflect sustainable development), while providing a practically useful tool for policy evaluation and decision making.

Parliamentary scrutiny

63. The sustainability of Government policy will no longer be scrutinised to the extent that is was. The loss of the SDC will leave a gap in the scrutiny of Government's sustainable development performance and the sustainability of its policy-making. The Government has said that it will not take on any of the SDC's watchdog work.[72] CESP will continue to collect SOGE performance data but it told us that it has not taken on further capacity to comment on the results of the data.[73] The Secretary of State told us that she hoped our Committee will undertake the watchdog function.[74]

64. The Environmental Audit Committee was set up to scrutinise Government environmental and sustainability performance and to report on this to Parliament. There is a distinction to be drawn between scrutiny that assists Government—either to encourage better performance or to bring further transparency to its operations—and scrutiny that aids accountability to Parliament. The SDC's scrutiny work supports mainly the first type, although it also provides useful material for the second type. There is also a distinction between scrutinising Government at arm's length from the 'outside', as we are able to do, and scrutinising Government from within, as the SDC has been able to do by embedding staff within departments. Minas Jacob from the SDC explained:

[...] 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.[75]

65. We will continue to play a role in the scrutiny of the Government's sustainability performance, reporting to Parliament. However, it is not for the Government to determine how Parliament might exercise its role of holding Government to account. We do not in any case have the capacity also to carry out the full extent of the routine watchdog function of the SDC. Furthermore, some of the inquiries undertaken by the Committee in pursuing its remit include areas of examination that have not been covered by the SDC. Even if we had the resources, dedicating them to replicating a role currently performed by the SDC would be to inappropriately bind this and future Committees.

66. Over the next year or so, nevertheless, we will concentrate our sustainable development scrutiny in three areas of work, pursuing themes which require particular inquiry to help develop a new architecture for scrutiny set out in this report:

  • Monitoring the Government's SOGE data and reporting process, and changes anticipated for the indicators system, as well as assessing Government's performance against its ambition of becoming the 'Greenest Government Ever'.
  • Reviewing the appraisal of government policies, across Government, and the impact of these policies on sustainable development (by for example examining impact assessments of key policy programmes), as well as examining changes to the Green Book and impact assessment methodology due later in 2011.
  • Examining the post-SDC architecture that Government establishes to embed sustainable development in all its work.

67. The Committee expects to carry out this work with the continued assistance of the NAO. The Comptroller and Auditor General wrote to us saying:

We hope to continue to assist the Committee with its inquiries. Should the Committee take on a broader remit, we would seek to support it across the range of its activities where we can provide relevant skills and knowledge. I am not, however, in a position to enter into binding long term commitments, or to take on functions which the Government has decided it should no longer fund.[76]

Should the NAO need more resources to support us in our work, we stand ready to support any NAO bid for additional resources submitted to the House.

68. We note that some other parliaments have developed interesting approaches to the scrutiny of sustainable development. The German parliament has a long-standing system of 'enquête commissions', parliamentary committees made up from academic specialist and elected members, to examine key scientific-political issues such as the response to climate change. A Hungarian 'Parliamentary Commissioner for Future Generations' is charged with protecting a legislative right of its citizens to a future healthy environment, and investigates petitions from those concerned that such rights are not being protected.[77] For our part, we intend to track the progress of relevant European legislation, as indeed the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee does, but specifically to determine its effects on sustainable development for the UK and to report as necessary to the House.

69. The Government too needs to do more to assist Parliamentary scrutiny of sustainable development, by engaging with our scrutiny work in a constructive and considered way. As Dr John Turnpenny's research has found, in the past when Government responses have dismissed recommendations they have done so without actually providing a robust account for those judgements.[78] That needs to change.

Wider stakeholder scrutiny

70. As part of a wider agenda of assisting scrutiny through greater transparency of its activities, the Government aims to make data on its sustainable development performance more accessible to the public. Defra's Business Plan sets out plans for a 'more transparent' means of doing this. In the gap left by the SDC, the Government expects that the public, academics, NGOs and community groups will use this data to hold it to account.[79] The SDC has 60 staff and a wealth of expertise in evaluating data. It is unclear how their experience will be replaced. Defra has made no commitment about whether any of these staff will be transferred into Government, and there remains a risk that the experience within the SDC could be lost. Whatever the outcome of the Government's deliberations about how many current SDC staff will be absorbed, the Government must ensure that the essential experience and knowledge of the Commission is brought into Government departments before the SDC's remaining staff are dispersed or made redundant.

71. We are pleased to hear that the Secretary of State is undertaking meetings with NGOs every couple of months.[80] We welcome this engagement with outside bodies but expect to see more formal established links being developed to ensure that they endure. This is increasingly important because the abolition of the SDC coincides with the abolition of other Government advisory bodies with sustainability interests, including the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, and reduced roles for other arms length bodies such as Natural England and the Environment Agency which Defra has told to cease their lobbying functions.[81]

72. NGOs and academics can play a valuable role in bringing new ideas into the policy-making process. This needs to be encouraged at this time, when the capacity of the public sector and the Government to develop sustainable policies might be restricted. WWF have told us that in the past the consultation with civil society has come at too late a stage.[82] The Government must do more to involve these bodies earlier in the policy process. Dr John Turnpenny noted the Environment and Energy Cabinet Committee had effectively become redundant because many potentially environmentally damaging policies had not been picked up early enough to be influenced. Improving the evidence-base is crucial to ensure that information is collected and shared amongst departments at a sufficiently early stage in the policy process.[83]

73. Government must make greater effort to engage with NGO and academic expertise in sustainable development, and assist such groups in scrutinising its work in this field. It must also be prepared to involve these bodies at earlier stages of policy development work, to assist it in developing more innovative ways of addressing sustainability issues.

27   Oral evidence taken before the Environmental Audit Committee on 10 November 2010, HC 576, Qq 3-4 Back

28   SDC, Becoming the greenest government ever, July 2010 Back

29   BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method) targets are used to describe a building's environmental performance. Back

30   Ibid.  Back

31   Ev 75 Back

32   Q 3 Back

33   Q 6 Back

34   Q 25 Back

35   Ev 66 Back

36   Ev w44 Back

37   Ev 101 Back

38   Ev w39 Back

39   Ev 62 Back

40   Qq 128-131 Back

41   Q 130 Back

42   Q 57 Back

43   Q 137 Back

44   Q 139 Back

45   Ev 44 Back

46   Ev w63 Back

47   Ev w9-11 Back

48   Not published  Back

49   PM's speech at DECC, May 2010, www.number10.gov.uk/news/speeches-and-transcripts/2010/05/pms-speech-at-decc-50113 Back

50   SDC, Becoming the greenest government ever, July 2010 Back

51   Government energy data on: data.gov.uk/content/real-time-energy-data-government-headquarters  Back

52   Q 3 Back

53   Ev 75 Back

54   Oral evidence taken before the Environmental Audit Committee on 10 November 2010, HC 576, Q 2 Back

55   Q 22 Back

56   Q 22 Back

57   HC Deb, 8 November 2010, cols 11-12W Back

58   Defra, Structural Reform Plan, July 2010 Back

59   SDC, Becoming the greenest government ever, July 2010 Back

60   Greening Government, Environmental Audit Committee's Sixth Report of Session 2008-09, HC 503, August 2009 Back

61   Ibid. Back

62   Ibid. Back

63   SDC, Becoming the Greenest government ever, July 2010  Back

64   Ev w44 Back

65   Ev 66 Back

66   Ev w39 Back

67   Q 72 Back

68   Ev 46 [WWF-UK and FDSD], Ev 60 [Dr John Turnpenny et al], Ev w15 [Woodland Trust] Back

69   Q 154 Back

70   Report on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, 2009: www.stiglitz-sen-fitoussi.fr/documents/rapport_anglais.pdf Back

71   Q 156 Back

72   Oral evidence taken before the Environmental Audit Committee on 10 November 2010, HC 576, Qq 3-4 Back

73   Q 85 Back

74   Oral evidence taken before the Environmental Audit Committee on 10 November 2010, HC 576, Qq 3-4 Back

75   Q 8 Back

76   Ev w79 Back

77   Ev 9 Back

78   John Turnpenny , Duncan Russel , Tim Rayner, Sustainable Development and the impact of the Environmental Audit Committee, October 2010 Back

79   Defra, Business Plan 2011-2015, November 2010 Back

80   Oral evidence taken before the Environmental Audit Committee on 10 November 2010, HC 576, Q 29 Back

81   Defra, Public bodies announcement, October 2010: ww2.defra.gov.uk/news/2010/10/14/public-bodies/  Back

82   Qq 168-170 Back

83   Q 158 Back

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