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

Written evidence submitted by Public and Commercial Services Union

1.  The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) is the largest civil service trade union, with a total membership of over 300,000 working in over 200 civil service departments, non-departmental public bodies and related areas.

2.  PCS welcomes this timely inquiry. We are happy to supplement this submission with any further written evidence and would also welcome the opportunity to provide oral evidence to the committee.

3.  For the purpose of clarity we have dealt with each question posed in the inquiry under separate subheadings below.

How can mechanisms to ensure the sustainability of Government operations, procurement and policy-making be improved and further embedded and mainstreamed across Government departments?

4.  PCS was delighted to see the recommendation in the EAC's 2008 report Making Government operations more sustainable which, citing evidence that PCS had submitted, commented on the lack of union involvement on sustainable development issues and recommended (paragraph 69) that:

"....OGC works with civil service unions to ensure that staff are trained, motivated, and empowered to take a leading role in mainstreaming sustainability in Government operations."

5.  Following this recommendation a sustainability forum was set up early in 2009 under the auspices of the Council of Civil Service Unions (CCSU)/Cabinet Office/OGC "Work and well-being" negotiations. The forum has made good progress, meeting on a quarterly basis, and focussing on principles for CCSU engagement in the delivery of sustainable government.

6.  Some of the initiatives and achievements to date include:

  1. CCSU participation in a "Raising our Game" conference for practitioners across the wider public sector (September 2009).
  2. Publication of a union case study in an OGC Delivery Plan Update (2009).
  3. Ongoing work looking at setting up joint sustainability forums at departmental level.
  4. Ongoing work to agree a process for joint workplace environmental audits.
  5. Discussions around the role of OGC in monitoring and encouraging departments/ agencies/ NDPBs' involvement in the Cycle to Work Scheme.
  6. Joint work around sustainable procurement.

7.  Since the general election, however, PCs are concerned that there has been a lack of clarity about what the new coalition government's broader framework and priorities are regarding sustainable government. Indeed, despite the government's rhetoric about being the "greenest government ever" it is still unclear as to which department is leading on this work.

8.  We are particularly concerned about how the Prime Minister's commitment on gaining office, to a reduction of 10% in carbon emissions within 12 months across the government estate, is being implemented. We are aware that guidance has been issued by DECC on meeting this commitment[2] and are concerned that there appears to have been no formal consultation with the unions - particularly as some of the issues, such as setting inflexible workplace temperature maxima/minima, clearly have implications for health & safety, work practices, and other conditions of employment. We are also concerned that some of the suggested measures appear rather short-term, piecemeal and in some instances patronising to staff - contrary to the strategic approach that the CCSU/Cabinet Office/OGC sustainability forum has been taking.

9.  Furthermore, the "Greener Government" briefings suggest that the government plans to use its own employees to test wider behavioural change initiatives; we regard this as highly questionable, particularly given the lack of consultation.

How can governance arrangements for sustainable development in Government be improved, and how can sustainability reporting by Government departments be made more transparent and accountable?

10.  The government's spending plans, due to be set out in the Comprehensive Spending Review, are likely to mean substantial cuts in costs as well as emissions. This also means that unions have an important role to play in a joint approach on staff engagement. PCS believes that if each department set up joint employer/union sustainability forums as we have suggested during talks with OGC/Cabinet Office this would not only secure greater staff awareness and engagement but would improve governance arrangements and also increase ownership and accountability.

11.  Joint employer/union sustainability forums could publish annual progress reports with recommendations for future activity.

12.  In this context we would reiterate the comments we made when we submitted evidence to the EAC's 2008 enquiry on sustainable government: if union green representatives are to be effective in performing the role of helping departments in the crucial task of securing behavioural change and reducing emissions they need formal rights to time off for trade union duties and activities under the Acas Code of Practice Time off for Trade Union Duties and Activities.

13.  The TUC's successive GreenWorkplace projects have shown clearly the potential for change when employers and unions work together on these issues[3] as has the local strategic partnership at Bristol City Council, for example.[4]

Was the SDC successful in fulfilling its remit? Which aspects of its work have reached a natural end, or are otherwise of less importance, and which remain of particular continuing importance?

14.  The SDC's successive Sustainable Development in Government reports have, in our view, been invaluable in monitoring and scrutinising the progress of government in making its own estate more sustainable, in making government accountable and encouraging government to raise its game.

15.  The SDC's most recent report, Becoming the "Greenest Government Ever", published in July this year (on the same day that the government announced that the SDC was to be abolished), makes clear that while much had been achieved by the previous administration there is still much work to do. For example, on the key issue of reducing carbon emissions, the report shows that government is still not yet on track to achieve the sustainable operations on the government estates (SOGE) target of a 12.5% reduction in carbon emissions by 2010-2011 (and 30% by 2020). There is also a need, as identified by the SDC, for some of the targets - such as on biodiversity - to be more ambitious.

16.  PCS believes that the SDC has been very successful in fulfilling its remit as the UK Government's sustainable development watchdog and advisor. The commission's "Greenest Government Ever" report - which reported that £60-70 million was saved in one year through sustainable measures across government - demonstrates that the commission, which received £3 million in funding, was very good value for money.

17.  We would disagree with the Defra Secretary of State, Caroline Spelman MP, who in announcing that the SDC was to be scrapped said that the sustainable agenda was part of what the government does "as a matter of course" and is now "everyday government business". The SDC's Sustainable Development in Government reports have demonstrated that this is not the case and that government has had to be cajoled into improving its performance. We would argue that it is vitally important that the scrutiny and accountability that the SDC provided continues and is adequately resourced.

In formulating a future architecture for sustainable development in Government, how can it take on board wider developments and initiatives (e.g. to develop "sustainability reporting" in departments' accounts) and the contributions that other bodies might make (eg Centre of Expertise in Sustainable Procurement)

18.  As indicated in our comments under the first subheading above, PCS believes the government will only be successful in improving the sustainability of its own estate if it continues to do so in consultation with trade unions. Proposals we have made in OGC/Cabinet Office sustainability talks - such as on joint workplace environmental audits - could go a long way in helping to achieve both the short term 10% emissions reduction target as well as longer term SOGE targets.

19.  In addition we suggest that there are many lessons to be learnt from sharing good practice across government as suggested in the SDC's Becoming the "Greenest Government Ever" report. At present there is little evidence of joined up thinking. The TUC's GreenWorkplaces projects could provide a useful starting point.

How, without the assistance of the SDC, will the Government be able to demonstrate that it is "the greenest government ever"?

20.  PCS believes that withdrawing funding from the SDC was a short-sighted decision that makes a nonsense of the claim to be the "greenest government ever". It signals that in the rush to put in place austerity measures "being green" is a luxury that can no longer be afforded. As the SDC's Chair Will Day commented in response to the government's decision to scrap the SDC, the opposite is in fact the case. Measures to make government greener are also about avoiding waste and saving money. Our members know this and want to make a positive contribution to making government operations greener - but not by worsening their terms and condition, passing on the cost to them or cutting their jobs.

13 October 2010

2   Greener Government: Pan-government staff engagement plan and Emissions-saving Behaviour Change - Briefing for permanent secretaries. Back

3   See for example GreenWorks, TUC, March 2010 (downloadable at http://www.tuc.org.uk/extras/greenworkplacesreport.pdf).


4   See IDS, HR Studies, May 2010 pp16-18. Back

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