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

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  The 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. (Paragraph 14)

2.  We are unhappy with the way that the Government has consulted with the devolved administrations on the impacts to this shared body [the SDC]. 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. (Paragraph 16)

3.  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. (Paragraph 24)

4.  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. (Paragraph 34)

5.  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. (Paragraph 35)

6.  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. (Paragraph 36)

7.  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. (Paragraph 42)

8.  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. (Paragraph 48)

9.  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. (Paragraph 49)

10.  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. (Paragraph 57)

11.  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. (Paragraph 62)

12.  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. (Paragraph 73)

13.  A new Sustainable Development Strategy should be developed to revitalise Government engagement on this essential foundation for all policy-making. It could link sustainable development into other overarching policy themes, like localism and climate change. A new Strategy should set milestones for the development of important sustainable development programmes including putting sustainable development more firmly in the Green Book and developing well-being measures. It should make clear the remits and responsibilities of all departments as well as the leadership architecture for sustainable development, including the role of 'central departments' and any new cabinet committee. It should also set out how the possible use of sanctions by those central departments could be used to encourage better performance by departments. (Paragraph 78)

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 10 January 2011