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.
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
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'.
Departments are still not showing sufficient progress against
a range of mandated mechanisms, including BREEAM targets,
certified environmental management systems and Carbon Trust targets.
As for sustainable development in policy-making, the SDC noted
Government has had mixed success in embedding sustainable
development into policy and decision-making processes. This is
partly due to weak governance arrangements.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
The arrangement had allowed the Department to develop a 'sustainable
schools' programme, though the SDC thought the future of this
initiative was now uncertain.
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.
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.
BRINGING SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
INTO THE CENTRE OF GOVERNMENT
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.
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
- ensuring action, by holding
all departments to account for their sustainable development performance;
- 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'.
He argued that the control of funds is the surest way to shape
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". 
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. [...]
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.
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.
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.
UK Environmental Law Foundation argued that the Cabinet Office
proximity to the Prime Minister would further suit it to the task.
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.
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.
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.
HIGH LEVEL LEADERSHIP AND CROSS-GOVERNMENT
37. Defra commissioned a survey of sustainable development
practitioners from across Government, which reported in 2010.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
(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
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
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.
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
SUSTAINABILITY TARGETS FOR OPERATIONS
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.
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.
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
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'.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT INDICATORS
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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. The
Secretary of State told us that she hoped our Committee will undertake
the watchdog function.
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 Governmenteither
to encourage better performance or to bring further transparency
to its operationsand 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
27 Oral evidence taken before the Environmental Audit
Committee on 10 November 2010, HC 576, Qq 3-4 Back
SDC, Becoming the greenest government ever, July 2010 Back
BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method) targets are used
to describe a building's environmental performance. Back
Ev 75 Back
Q 3 Back
Q 6 Back
Q 25 Back
Ev 66 Back
Ev w44 Back
Ev 101 Back
Ev w39 Back
Ev 62 Back
Qq 128-131 Back
Q 130 Back
Q 57 Back
Q 137 Back
Q 139 Back
Ev 44 Back
Ev w63 Back
Ev w9-11 Back
Not published Back
PM's speech at DECC, May 2010, www.number10.gov.uk/news/speeches-and-transcripts/2010/05/pms-speech-at-decc-50113 Back
SDC, Becoming the greenest government ever, July 2010 Back
Government energy data on: data.gov.uk/content/real-time-energy-data-government-headquarters
Q 3 Back
Ev 75 Back
Oral evidence taken before the Environmental Audit Committee on
10 November 2010, HC 576, Q 2 Back
Q 22 Back
Q 22 Back
HC Deb, 8 November 2010, cols 11-12W Back
Defra, Structural Reform Plan, July 2010 Back
SDC, Becoming the greenest government ever, July 2010 Back
Greening Government, Environmental Audit Committee's Sixth Report
of Session 2008-09, HC 503, August 2009 Back
SDC, Becoming the Greenest government ever, July 2010 Back
Ev w44 Back
Ev 66 Back
Ev w39 Back
Q 72 Back
Ev 46 [WWF-UK and FDSD], Ev 60 [Dr John Turnpenny et al],
Ev w15 [Woodland Trust] Back
Q 154 Back
Report on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social
Progress, 2009: www.stiglitz-sen-fitoussi.fr/documents/rapport_anglais.pdf Back
Q 156 Back
Oral evidence taken before the Environmental Audit Committee on
10 November 2010, HC 576, Qq 3-4 Back
Q 85 Back
Oral evidence taken before the Environmental Audit Committee on
10 November 2010, HC 576, Qq 3-4 Back
Q 8 Back
Ev w79 Back
Ev 9 Back
John Turnpenny , Duncan Russel , Tim Rayner, Sustainable Development
and the impact of the Environmental Audit Committee, October
Defra, Business Plan 2011-2015, November 2010 Back
Oral evidence taken before the Environmental Audit Committee on
10 November 2010, HC 576, Q 29 Back
Defra, Public bodies announcement, October 2010: ww2.defra.gov.uk/news/2010/10/14/public-bodies/
Qq 168-170 Back
Q 158 Back