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 Department for Communities and Local Government


1.  The Department's approach to sustainable development is shaped by the Department's ambition to lead a radical shift in power from Westminster to local people to enable people to have control of the decisions which affect them, as set out in the draft Structural Reform Plan published in July 2010. In particular the Department aims to make localism and the Big Society part of everyday life by decentralising power as far as possible; reinvigorating local accountability, democracy and participation; increasing transparency; meeting people's housing aspirations; and giving communities a stronger role in planning.

2.  Delivering these priorities will contribute to sustainable development:

  1. Local people are best placed to understand what is right for sustainable development locally. Empowering local people and communities will enable them to respond confidently to the challenges of sustainable development as well as other issues.
  2. Action on transparency will enable local people to hold local authorities to account on what they are doing to promote the sustainability of their local area.
  3. The planning reforms being introduced are geared to giving local people and communities far more ability to determine the shape of the places in which they live, including by creating a new designation to protect green areas of particular importance to local people.

3.  As a practical example of this overall approach, the Department is working with the four Big Society vanguards announced by the Prime Minister in July. One of the vanguards is the London Borough of Sutton, which is seeking to develop the Hackbridge Sustainable Suburb. The Department is working with the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to provide assistance to realise the vision of Hackbridge residents and implement the principles of one planet living, including providing expert advice on options for setting up a decentralised energy network. The Department is also exploring ways of increasing community involvement in Hackbridge, for example in the restoration of the River Wandle which is being led by the Wandle Trust.

4.  The Department is working across Whitehall on other actions to promote a low carbon and eco friendly economy and to be the Greenest Government ever. This includes work on improving the energy efficiency of new homes through the zero carbon homes policy; working with DECC on the Green Deal; and working with Defra on the preparation of the Natural Environment White Paper.

5.  With regard to its own operations, the Department published its Sustainable Operations Policy in February 2008, to support delivery of the targets for Sustainable Operations on the Government Estate (SOGE). This will be revised when post SOGE targets have been agreed. Delivering a resource efficient, low carbon estate is crucial in both supporting its policy work and in operating an effective organisation. To increase transparency, the Department also publishes utility consumption data for its headquarters building on its external website. The Department is currently on course both to deliver all the 2010-11 SOGE targets and the Prime Minister's commitment to reduce carbon emissions from offices by 10% by May 2011.


1.  What procedures specifically initiated in the department have been most successful in improving sustainable development in your department? Why have these worked well? Which procedures have not worked and why?

1.1.  The main procedure which the Department used historically was the preparation of, and reporting against, Sustainable Development Action Plans (SDAP). At the time, this was a useful process in terms of raising awareness of sustainable development in the Department, pulling together a coherent picture of sustainable development activity across the Department and identifying areas where further action might be needed. The Department was pleased to receive positive feedback from the Sustainable Development Commission on the last SDAP report prepared which covered 2008-2009.

1.2.  The downside of the SDAP was that, because of the very comprehensive approach taken, it became a check list of activities, and reporting tended to focus narrowly on checking what had happened against these, rather than the development and delivery of an overall strategy. Also, as well as SDAPs, Carbon Reduction Delivery Plans and Departmental Adaptation Plans were required by the last administration (the Department published these in March 2010). Inevitably there was some duplication between these documents and the SDAP.

1.3.  It will be important to ensure that any future requirements for Departmental Plans of this nature are well focused and complement, rather than cut across, each other.

1.4.  The Department has established for some time a programme board of senior managers, chaired at Director General level and drawn from across the Department, to oversee its work on climate change and sustainable development. The board is currently revising its role and ways of working.

1.5.  The Department has participated fully in the cross Whitehall mechanisms established and led by Defra and DECC on this agenda. They have been useful to enable Departments to coordinate activity and learn from each other. The Department has also welcomed the challenge provided by bodies like the Committee on Climate Change, most recently the report of the Adaptation Sub Committee on its first review of Government action on climate change adaptation.

1.6.  In relation to its estates and operations, the Department has had particular success in reducing carbon emissions from its buildings by combining traditional energy efficiency techniques with the use of new technologies, such as high efficiency lighting, boiler optimisers and heat recovery cooling systems, reducing emissions in DCLG's HQ building by 27% since 2007, despite increased occupancy.

1.7.  The introduction of Board level Sustainable Development in Government (SDiG) progress reports has also been crucial in securing senior support, ensuring buy-in to potentially challenging new initiatives, such as further reductions to office heating. Board reporting has helped ensure the delivery of the SOGE targets became a corporate priority.

1.8.  An environmental champions network was established in 2006 both to support the Department's Sustainable Operations team and to foster more sustainable behaviour in the workplace. This group of staff volunteers have organised a number of successful campaigns to increase environmental awareness and help embed sustainability in daily business. The success of many of these campaigns has been in part because the group is staff led and comprises enthusiasts who are able to relate to their colleagues on a familiar level.

2.  To what extent are civil servants in your department made accountable for working more "sustainably"?

2.1.  As noted above, the Climate Change and Sustainable Development Programme Board is chaired at Director General level so providing Board level oversight and challenge to the work of the Department on sustainability and climate change.

2.2.  A small central team manages the Department's programmes of work on climate change and sustainable development. However, action on these issues is not simply the preserve of this team. Specific policy teams will take forward specific actions - for example the Planning Directorate are taking forward work on the planning reforms described above. Team and individual work objectives reflect those responsibilities appropriately and are assessed as part of the performance management process for both policy teams and staff working on the sustainability of the Department's operations.

2.3.  Consideration of the environmental impacts of the Department's policies, alongside other impacts such as equality impacts, social impacts etc. are included as part of the Impact Assessment process when new policies and programmes are being developed. This provides a systematic approach to challenge and assessment - including for instance assessment of the impact on carbon emissions. The Department has recently launched a policy making framework designed to give support and guidance to staff on all aspects of making policy.

2.4.  The Department has a Corporate Procurement Sustainable Procurement strategy, which is published on our Bravo e-tendering portal so that suppliers are able to view our approach and commitments. The Department's newly expanded procurement policy team has an objective to attain Level 2 of the Defra Flexible Framework by the end of the current financial year, with a progression through to Level 3 (and beyond) thereafter.

2.5.  The Department's procurement team will utilise the Flexible Framework and will complete an initial review and establish a sustainable procurement work plan by end November 2010, with a view to incorporate its use by end of 2010-11. Although some key suppliers have been approached with regard to closer working on sustainability issues this remains patchy overall and a programme to address this and work with key suppliers to introduce plans with them will commence during the remainder of 2010-11.

2.6.  As part of the response to the challenge to reduce the Department's own emissions by ten per cent, initiatives such as CO2 pledge walls, climate change seminars, and other behaviour change campaigns have been introduced to help encourage staff to change their working practices, and to think about any wider implications for policy development.

3.  What would help DCLG engage more effectively with the bodies set up by Government to deliver sustainable development targets?

3.1.  The Department works with a wide variety of bodies on this agenda. As noted above, the Department contributes to the cross Government work led by DECC and Defra. The Department also works with bodies such as the Environment Agency and Natural England on issues of joint interest.

3.2.  With regard to work on sustainable operations, the Centre of Expertise for Sustainable Procurement (CESP) is the main point of contact. Engagement with CESP is positive; however, greater opportunities for consultation would be of value as would a clear forward work plan for CESP's own work. A clearer governance structure for sustainable development across Government would enable more effective outcomes, as would greater coordination and cooperation between bodies such as the CESP and other Government departments with major sustainability policy interests.

3.3.  Local government has played, and will continue to play, a key role in delivering sustainable development. The Government does not believe, however, that the right way to do this is by imposing targets or reporting processes on local authorities on sustainable development, or other issues. The Government therefore has announced recently the abolition of the previous administration's National Indicators and Local Area Agreements. Instead a single comprehensive list of data will be drawn up. The Government will work with the sector on the list of data. As part of this process, the Government will be open to suggestions from the sector about data relevant to sustainability which might be included on the list.

4.  How has the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) contributed towards improving the sustainability of your Department? How much money has DCLG saved, over what period, by implementing measures recommended by the SDC?

4.1.  The Department and the SDC engaged on early work to build capability and raise awareness of sustainable development within the Department. The Department also has had support, feedback and challenge from the SDC on Sustainable Development Action Plans (SDAPs) and progress reporting against these.

4.2.  The SDC's Sustainable Development in Government (SDiG) annual reports were of particular value in raising the profile of performance against SOGE targets, and the performance league table fostered competition with clear reputational drivers. The SDC also created opportunities for best practice sharing and networking through the SDiG report, the SD Panel and through events.

4.3.  It has not been possible to quantify financial savings achieved through implementing SDC-specific recommendations due to few if any actions being introduced in isolation from other measures already underway within the Department. Some recommendations which may have delivered significant savings have been previously rejected by Government, such as incorporating emissions reduction targets for all travel modes into SOGE.

5.  To what extent does the SDC's Sustainable Development in Government (SDiG) reporting process provide an effective means of monitoring the Department's performance?

5.1.  The SDiG reporting process provided clear benefits in monitoring performance against the environmentally focused SOGE targets, comparing progress against both previous years and other Government departments. Later SDiG reports also included more benchmarking which allowed further performance assessment, in addition to the league table. The SDC reports also included sound recommendations which the Department has found useful.

5.2.  In more recent years, the SDiG reports have developed into commentary on performance rather than performance assessment itself, to avoid duplication with Government reporting requirements now managed by CESP.

5.3.  The existing SDiG reporting process is necessarily limited to specifics of the SOGE targets such as carbon emissions, waste and water with social aspects confined to reporting on volunteering activity. Performance on wider issues was set out in the Department's SDAP reports.

6.  How does the Department verify the data it submits on Sustainable Operations on the Government Estate (SOGE) targets? How might the submission and verification procedure be improved under the new SDiG process?

6.1.  The Department incorporates a variety of checks to verify SOGE data, with the degree of verification varying across the estate, dependent on availability of resources, the utility metering infrastructure and source of data (e.g. from landlord, facilities management contractor, major occupier).

6.2.  The most basic check undertaken for all data involves the central Department's sustainable operations team sense checking data against previous years' figures and benchmarking with similar buildings and organisations. Energy and water data is also checked against utility bills. More sophisticated verification involves checking billing data with half hourly data generated by automatic meter readers (AMRs).

6.3.  To ensure greater certainty around data accuracy, an auditing element could be introduced which could be relatively light touch, to avoid further increasing the reporting burden. The audit could be undertaken by either the Centre of Expertise in Sustainable Procurement or by departments' internal audit functions. To reduce the burden, a sample element could be audited such as energy data from a particular building or road travel from one Executive Agency.

1 November 2010

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